NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ryan McDonagh is old enough at 26 and experienced enough after three NHL conference finals in four years and one Olympic Games that little fazes him in hockey terms anymore.
But he said he finds being a first-time All-Star “pretty sur real” after a childhood in Minnesota spent watching the weekend-long event from afar.
“It’s a dream come true,” the Rangers’ captain said. “It’s a huge honor. I’m just going to try to soak everything in and make sure I don’t look too bad out there on the ice and don’t screw anything up.”
McDonagh is the lone Ranger here, but there is a neat bookend for him on the Metropolitan Division roster. The only other representative of a New York team is McDonagh’s crosstown captain counterpart, the Islanders’ John Tavares.
Tavares is one year younger but already in his third All-Star Game, and he most likely would have been 5-for-5 if the 2013 event had not been canceled because of a lockout and 2014 had not been an Olympic year.
Last year he scored four goals in Columbus but was passed over for MVP honors in favor of hometown favorite Ryan Johansen.
Even though Tavares is slightly jaded compared to McDonagh — and admitted a midseason break would be nice — he said he still embraces the opportunity and responsibility that comes with being here.
“As a kid, I grew up watching the All-Star Game every year, so I always dreamed about being here and being one of those players,’’ he said, “and I definitely enjoy it.”
Tavares and McDonagh know one another only casually, but each praised the other’s skills and reputation.
“He’s well-respected around the league, for good reason,” McDonagh said. “You talk about a guy that has a huge impact on whether his team wins or not in a game; he’s got an ultimate role there with the Islanders.”
Said Tavares: “I have a lot of respect for him. We play against each other so much. He does so much for his team, such a good all-around player, such a great skater.”
Tavares is a captain here, having replaced the injured Alex Ovechkin, and is among the league’s biggest young stars and mostly a no-brainer pick as an All-Star, even if his statistics are down compared to last season.
McDonagh, on the other hand, is not a particularly big name across North America despite playing in New York — his podium at media day Friday was sparsely attended — and was not wowing anyone at the time of his selection earlier this month.
But after finishing last season playing on a broken right foot, he said he feels as good as ever and appears to be at the peak of his professional powers. He tallied seven points in seven games immediately after his selection.
“I feel really fresh and strong out there,” the defenseman said. “I’ve been able to get my strength to where I feel it needs to be . . . It’s exciting for me. I feel like this last stretch since Christmas break, I’ve really found my game again and how I have to play in order for this team to have a chance to win.
“It’s my sixth season. I’ve been able to experience some long playoff runs and some ups and downs and all the adversity it takes to even get into the playoffs.”
McDonagh will be back at that task soon enough. For this weekend, he can focus on living the dream.