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For Chris Kreider and Mathew Barzal, NHL All-Star Game is top-shelf experience

Mathew Barzal of the Islanders skates against Jonathan

Mathew Barzal of the Islanders skates against Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers in the game between Metropolitan Division and Atlantic Division during the 2020 NHL All-Star Game on January 25, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

ST. LOUIS — It was over too quickly for either of their tastes — just two 10-minute periods for Mathew Barzal and Chris Kreider, who were eliminated along with the rest of the Metropolitan Division in Saturday night’s NHL All-Star Game.

But while Kreider — 28 and playing in his first All-Star Game — lamented the fact that he was dressed in a suit while the rest of the league’s All-Stars still played behind him, he said this long-held dream was everything he could have hoped for.

It was evident on Friday when he stood on the blue line during introductions, looking around at the cheering crowd around him, seemingly taking it all in. It showed itself again on Saturday, when he reflected on the weekend. This could very well be one of the last times Kreider gets to represent the Rangers, what with the trade deadline coming up on Feb. 24 and the team situated just outside the Metropolitan Division’s basement.

“It’s an incredible honor to represent the Rangers and to be able to share this with my family was just a cool experience,” Kreider said. “It’s something I’ll remember for sure.”

What’s more, Kreider got to do it with the Isles’ Barzal, whom he has faced more times than he’d prefer this season, he said. Their teams played three times in a nine-day span in January, but this was the first time they’d actually met.

“The hockey community is funny like that,” Kreider said. “He’s an awesome, awesome guy. He’s an awesome kid. He’s young. He’s just going to keep on getting better — an incredible player and obviously a pretty good skater.”

Barzal, in a decidedly different situation, still echoed the general sentiment. His current future with the Islanders is secure, and this is his second go- around, but the event hasn’t lost its luster.

He won fastest skater Friday, unseating three-time champ Connor McDavid, and notched an assist in the first period Saturday — a seamless centering feed to John Carlson for the Metropolitan Division’s first goal in a 9-5 loss to the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic — led by three goals apiece from the Bruins’ David Pastrnak and the Senators’ Anthony Duclair — outscored the Metropolitan 5-1 in the second period.

“It’s always fun being here,” Barzal said. “It’s kind of a back-and-forth game . . . There’s so much skill out there, it can really go either way. So it was fun. We’re trying to entertain the fans, we’re trying to score some nice goals out there and, you know, we did. So, you know, get them next year.”

The highlights of Barzal’s weekend were mostly pretty obvious: the chance to see his family, whom he hasn’t gotten to see in a while, and winning on Saturday — bragging rights that came along with a $30,000 prize. But he also got another unexpected perk, courtesy of a celebrity who returned to her hometown of St. Louis, by way of Scranton.

Jenna Fischer, best known outside of Missouri as "Pam from The Office,'' was the Atlantic Division’s honorary coach. Inside Missouri, though, she’s a devoted Blues fan. On Saturday, she spent her time behind the bench being heckled by Gritty, the Flyers’ burly orange mascot.

“I’m a huge fan of ‘The Office,’ ” Barzal said. “That was probably one of the coolest moments of the weekend. I watch a lot of ‘The Office,’ so to see Pam in person was pretty cool.”

It won’t be his last memory as an All-Star, and the questions already are starting about next year’s competition, which will be held in Fort Lauderdale. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday that the NHL is hoping to give that contest a more international flair, opening the possibility of Canadians playing against Americans. Barzal, who hails from British Columbia, was all for it.

“That would be a cool format,” he said. “The way it is right now, it’s pretty solid, but if they want to mix it up and make it like that, I think that would be fun. You know, it’s always fun competing with your fellow [countrymen].''


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