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Volume 24 No. 117
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NHL Goes Back To Hockey's Roots By Staging All-Star Game In Ottawa

Even with Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin and Penguins C Sidney Crosby not at this weekend's All-Star Game festivities in Ottawa, and even with Bruins G Tim Thomas "likely to attract all manner of queries, there's a feeling about this shinny gathering that's a lot closer to the soul of the sport than last year" in Raleigh, according to Damien Cox of the TORONTO STAR. This year's event is "reaching out to the heartland -- a sensible strategy, let's face it, at a time when without the seven Canadian teams the NHL wouldn't be much of a business at all." When you come to Ottawa for this weekend, you "run headlong into that sense of a league leaning heavily upon the heartland, upon places where it's cold in January and the lakes and rivers are frozen, places that don't need to have the rules explained or the game sold to them." This is a league "being forced to search for new, sellable names and personalities because of the end of the Sid-Ovie power dynamic." But having the game in a "cold Canadian city where there's history and a gorgeous canal to skate on delivers a sense of reality to the occasion, and less of a sense this is all a false front constructed for TV" (TORONTO STAR, 1/27). In Columbus, Bob Hunter wrote, "With the NHL’s star-sapped All-Star weekend upon us like a cold winter rain, an accompanying feeling of malaise is understandable." Crosby is "missing because of a head shot he suffered, Alex Ovechkin is voluntarily absent because of a head hit he didn't appreciate being punished for, and maybe we are all feeling a little woozy from the blows they have dealt to the sport itself." Hunter: "Hockey has a concussion problem and an injury problem, and perhaps it takes having some of its best and brightest miss a showcase event to force the NHL to address the problem" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 1/27).

READY FOR THE SHOW: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch noted Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk is "looking forward to what's going to be a memorable weekend for hockey fans and the people of Ottawa." Melnyk has wanted an All-Star Weekend in Ottawa "since he bought the Senators and Scotiabank Place" in '03. Melnyk: "When I was buying the team, one of the things that was part of the negotiations was if the city was able to accommodate an all-star game, that we would get one. (Commissioner) Gary Bettman came through and we’re going to put on a show like they’ve never seen before." He added, "We’re going to have (a party) equal to or bigger than what we did for the world juniors (in 2009). Every hotel room is sold out, you’re going to have thousands of people skating on the Canal and enjoying the city. People are going to see what the city and the people are about" (OTTAWA SUN, 1/26).

: A Vancouver PROVINCE editorial states, "It's time for the NHL to eliminate the All-Star Game -- a sad exercise in non-hockey that does zilch to boost interest in the sport or the league. Here's a better idea: take the fun aspects of the all-star weekend -- the skills competition, which could be expanded to include entertaining non-hockey sports tilts or contests demonstrating other aspects of the stars' personalities -- and hold them around the annual Winter Classic" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/27). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes, "Let us suggest a solution to the All-Star Analgesic: Merge it with the Winter Classic. Have the all-stars frolic in the great outdoors before 50,000. And make Jan. 1 a real showcase game on real ice" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/27).