Vancouver’s Brock Boeser was more than happy to just be at the NHL All-Star game, mingling with some of the high-profile players he grew up admiring.
Leaving Amalie Arena as the first rookie to take MVP honors since Mario Lemieux in 1985 on Sunday far exceeded anything he imagined possible.
“Shocked,” the 20-year-old said Canucks star said, describing his reaction. “I never would have dreamt this any time in life.”
Rickard Rakell had two goals and Boeser, Johnny Gaudreau and Drew Doughty also scored to help the Pacific Division beat the Atlantic 5-2 in the championship game of a four-team divisional tournament played in an entertaining three-on-three format adopted for the All-Star game in 2016.
The NHL’s leading rookie scorer with 24 goals and 19 assists for the Canucks also had a helper in the final after scoring to put his team ahead for good in the Pacific’s 5-2 semifinal victory over the Central Division.
‘Enjoy this, just have fun’
“I was definitely nervous coming into it,” said Boeser, the only rookie among 15 first-time all-stars. “[I said] enjoy this, just have fun, smile. That’s what I did.”
Goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Smith teamed to allow just four goals in the two games the Pacific won to claim the $ 1 million US winner-take-all prize.
Mike Green had two goals for the Atlantic, one off both Fleury and Smith in the final.
Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov had three goals in the Atlantic’s 7-4 semifinal win over the Metropolitan Division, however the Lightning’s young star was shut out in the championship game.
“After we saw that we won the first game, we said we needed to tighten up a little bit and play a little harder there for the cash,” said Gaudreau, who plays for the Calgary Flames.
“We made sure we were ready to go. [Because] now there’s something to play for in the finals,” said Smith, who stopped six of seven shots in the second half. “Our guys did a good job to up the tempo.”
‘Tampa proved it’s a great hockey town’
All-Star weekend began with a free outdoor concert headlined by Fitz and the Tantrums and also featured a three-day fun fest for fans, as well as the annual skills competition that wrapped up Saturday’s festivities.
Adding spice and a unique flavour to the experience was Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Pirate Invasion, which drew what officials estimated as an additional 200,000 people to the downtown waterfront for a parade and other activities.
Players walked the red carpet, posing for pictures and signing autographs before entering Amalie Arena for the first All-Star game played in Tampa since 1999, the last of Wayne Gretzky’s 18 appearances in the midseason showcase that shifts to San Jose, California, next season.
“Tampa proved it’s a great hockey town,” said Lightning first-time all-star Brayden Point, added to the game because of an injury to Tampa Bay defenceman Victor Hedman. “It’s awesome.”
With the Lightning’s Jon Cooper coaching the Atlantic Division, and the team with the NHL’s best record represented by a league-high four players, the sellout crowd of 19,092 roared its approval when the Atlantic-Metropolitan semifinal began with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, plus Kucherov, Point and Steven Stamkos on the ice at the same time.
Kucherov’s hat trick in the Atlantic’s semifinal win was the first for an All-Star game since the NHL instituted the three-match, three-on-three tournament format.
“He’s a magical player,” Cooper of the 24-year-old two-time All-Star who’s among the league’s leading scorers.
Point, Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel also scored for the Atlantic, which rallied from a 3-1 deficit after Vasilevskiy allowed early goals to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
Boeser snapped a 2-2 tie, James Neal of the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights scored two goals, and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid had four assists in the Pacific’s semifinal win over the Central Division.