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Plenty of new faces, led by Crosby and Ovechkin, at 55th all-star game this week

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Of the 42 NHLers headed to Dallas this week, 21 of them are first-time all-stars, including the headliners Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

"Well, I know people are going to be watching those two play together," said 12th-time all-star Joe Sakic. "You know those two are going to be neck and neck for the next 15 years. They are two of the most exciting players in the game and to get an opportunity to watch them on the same line, it's going to be a lot of fun.

"I think both teams will be keeping a close eye on them."

Crosby and Ovechkin were voted in by the fans so they'll at least start together on a forward line with Daniel Briere.

After that it's up to Eastern Conference all-star head coach Lindy Ruff, and he figures he'll keep the super sophomores together.

"Yeah, I don't see why not," said the Buffalo Sabres head coach. "I think that's the dynamic duo and it would be interesting to see what they can do together.

"They both have everything. Tremendous speed, and they can both score and they can both pass."

The 19-year-old Crosby says his job will be simple.

"Playing with a guy who can shoot like that, you want to get it to him," said the NHL's leading scorer. "I'll be doing my best to feed him the puck and let him rip it."

Western Conference all-star Kimmo Timonen of the Nashville Predators will be among the six defencemen trying to stop the mesmerizing 1-2 punch from the East.

He's up for the challenge.

"Big time," Timonen said. "Those are two great young players, probably the future of the NHL right there. I'm looking forward to playing against them."

The players are slated to arrive in Dallas on Monday, a day that starts with the NHL's new uniform launch at an afternoon news conference and ends with the players' all-star practices from 7-9 p.m. ET.

The NHL's board of governors meets Tuesday morning, overshadowed at night by the 7:30 p.m. ET YoungStars Game and 8:30 p.m. ET skills competition.

The main event, the 55th NHL all-star game, goes Wednesday, Crosby's first of many to be sure.

Sakic was in Crosby's shoes 17 years ago when he made his first all-star game appearance.

"What I remember the most about my first all-star game wasn't the actual game but the skills competition," said Sakic. "I had to do the shot drill or the target shooting, my heart was pounding about 200 beats a minute. I don't think I hit them all either just to make it worse."

Crosby isn't exactly showing up under the radar like Sakic perhaps did at the 1990 all-star game but the Pittsburgh Penguins centre, relayed Sakic's comment, figures it'll be much the same for him.

"I'll probably be in a state of shock being with so many guys that I grew up watching," said Crosby, who has a six-point lead in the scoring race with 72 points. "But that's the way it is. I think that's the exciting part of it. The main thing is to there and have fun with it and meet a lot of great players and great guys."

Many fans actually prefer the skills competition on the eve. They can look forward to seeing Montreal Canadiens defenceman Sheldon Souray defend the hardest shot title he earned with Adrian Aucoin at the 2004 all-star game in Minnesota.

"First I have to get selected," said Souray. "Then you look at who's there. (Zdeno) Chara wasn't there last time. A guy like (Dion) Phaneuf can really fire the puck. It's always competitive."

Souray says there's no real strategy.

"I'd just do what I did last time - just go out and shoot as hard as I can," said the Habs star. "It's pretty much an idiot's event. You go out and wire the puck. That's why it's tailor-made for me."

You might be surprised to hear who Souray views as the favourite if he's entered.

"If there's anyone you should put money on in that competition it would be Chara," he said. "I think he has far and away the hardest shot in the league. It'll be interesting to see him fire the puck."

Timonen, meanwhile, is headed to his second all-star game, a much deserved honour for one of the NHL's vastly underrated players.

The native of Kuopio, Finland, won't be alone from the Timonen clan in Dallas. There'll be a trip from overseas.

"I talked to my dad the day I got selected and he said, 'Ok, we're coming,"' said Timonen, a tint of pride in his voice. "I said, 'Are you guys sure? It's a long way for four days.' He said, 'No son, we're coming.' It's a big deal for them and it's a big deal for me, too."

Timonen will also bring his wife and kids, a common sight at the all-star game.

"I'll bring my family and we'll make Dallas our little vacation spot," said superstar goalie Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.

Not all fans are keen on the all-star week. Some hate seeing the schedule stopped and don't watch the no-hitting contest.

But commissioner Gary Bettman defends still having it.

"The all-star events create an opportunity for the NHL family to gather together and for our fans to really focus on our great stars," Bettman said in an e-mail. "It's a mid-season break for everyone to have a little fun and it's terrific for the host city because our all-star players get involved with the community."

Note: Twelve Canadian minor-hockey players will be introduced before the game and will stand on the ice for the national anthems. The participants are: Lyndon Yee of Hay River, N.W.T.; Linsey Eby of Whitehorse; Nena Virk of Richmond, B.C.; Tyler Bovaird of Fort McMurray, Alta.; Tanner Nagel of Mossbank, Sask.; Gage Pringle of Glenboro, Man.; Matthew Simand of Thornhill, Ont.; Brandon Heroux-Pinsonnault of Trois Rivieres, Que.; Ayron Fournier of Quispamsis, N.B.; Felicia Bellefontaine of Mineville, N.S.; Dominic Dijulio of Lennox Island, P.E.I.; and Stephen Haring of Torbay, N.L.


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