Recapping Nashville’s unique NHL All Star Weekend

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Recapping Nashville’s unique NHL All Star Weekend

The NHL All Star Game took place in Nashville on January 31, 2016 (Cutler Klein)

The NHL All Star Game took place in Nashville on January 31, 2016 (Cutler Klein)

The NHL All Star Game took place in Nashville on January 31, 2016 (Cutler Klein)

The NHL All Star Game took place in Nashville on January 31, 2016 (Cutler Klein)

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

For the first time ever, Nashville hosted the NHL All Star Weekend, capped off with a memorable 3 vs. 3 tournament that left the crowd, and the hockey world, wanting more.

The weekend was about more than just the game, however. Visitors flocked from around the world to see the best of the NHL play and to see just what Nashville has to offer as a city, and a hockey town.

The city didn’t disappoint. First, the NHL Fan Fair, a festival of games, merchandise and fun for any hockey fan, opened up on Thursday at the Music City Center. Attractions included accuracy shooting contests, hardest slapshot competitions, NHL mascot appearances, customized Upper Deck trading cards, a bubble hockey tournament, photo opportunities with the Stanley Cup and NHL player and alumni appearances.

Despite long lines and big crowds, especially for autographs, the Fan Fair was a puck playground for even the casual hockey fan.

Fan Fair also featured live music performances from country artists such as Lennon and Maisy, Charles Esten and Russell Dickerson. Right outside the Music City Center, there was even more music at the All Star Winter Park. Big and Rich, Lee Brice, Chris Young and Dierks Bentley headlined the outdoor concert series on Demonbreun Street, adjacent to the Winter Park outdoor skating rink and food vendors. The sidewalks outside Bridgestone Arena were lined with oversized pucks with the All Star players on them. Everything in the area was hockey-themed with a touch of southern charm. Downtown was transformed into a hockey spectacle that only Nashville could pull off.

Even with all the fun around town, the first hockey wasn’t actually played until Saturday night with the Skills Competition. The Skills Competition consisted of events such as a breakaway challenge that ended with Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban dressing up like Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr and scoring a goal, as well as San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns donning a Chewbacca mask. One of the other eventful contests was the hardest shot competition, in which Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber blew away the rest of the field with his 108.1 mile per hour rocket.

After a weekend of honky tonk and hockey talk, it was time to drop the puck on the All Star Game. This season, the league tried to revamp the dull and uninspiring game by turning it into a 3 vs. 3 tournament between the league’s divisions. The change paid dividends, as for the first time in years, the game was truly fun and memorable to watch.

Perhaps the biggest storyline of the weekend was Pacific Division captain John Scott, the fan favorite who was voted into the game as captain despite only playing 11 games in the NHL this season and scoring 5 goals in his entire career. Scott reported in an article in The Players’ Tribune that the league tried to get him to back out of the game, but he refused.

The 6-foot-8 forward captivated the crowd, scoring two goals in the tournament en route to a Pacific Division win and MVP honors, as voted by the fans. Chants of “M-V-P” and “Let’s Go John Scott” rained down from the crowd throughout the final game of the tournament.

In all, it was a phenomenal showcase for the NHL, the Predators organization and the city itself. If there was any doubt that Nashville could be a legitimate hockey town, there isn’t anymore. Fans from all around the league raved about the city and its fans. The eyes of the sports world were on Nashville, and the city responded in the only way they knew how: with a country, hootin’ and hollerin’, and puck-shootin’ good time.

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