Monday, January 31, 2011

What a weekend!

Hats off to you, Raleigh, for a tremendous NHL All Star Game weekend. From the Fan Fair at the impressive Raleigh Convention Center, to the Fantasy Draft (the brainchild of Brendan Shanahan), to a wildly entertaining All Star game, the Triangle showed its true colors as a place that the game has taken hold, and has deepening roots.

I had the pleasure of talking to players past and present over the course of the weekend. There is one thing that has not changed in all the years I have covered hockey. These guys get it. There are no monster egos. These are rooted players that know the value of the fans, and the game. They may be high maintenance for their own teams, but as all stars, they are the class of the league, and carried themselves that way all weekend long.

I loved the way the game itself began. The kids on the ice, picking sticks out of the center. This method is the blind draw of the choosing of teams (unless you already know who the stick's owner is). The Hurricanes were able to blend in their history with their youth in a tremendous and touching moment. Bringing Rod Brind'Amour and Ron Francis out in the skit with the kids, and then Eric Staal, the All Star game captain of his own squad, joining them in a pool of white light at center ice. The crowd (predictably) went berserk, but again, they tied yesterday to today in a classy manner.

I had a wonderful time covering the game, but most of all, I want to thank those folks who had so many kind and wonderful things to say to me all weekend long. The 7 years I spent in Raleigh were some wonderful times, and I met so many terrific people. I had one person tell me, "it wouldn't have been right if you weren't here." That was one of the highest compliments I have ever gotten in my career. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one who stopped to say hi, talk hockey, or even just catch up on old times.

It was a very special weekend for the city of Raleigh, and the state of North Carolina. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the party.

Mike Solarte

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