Retro Hockey: 2002 NHL Young Stars Game

The year might be 2013, and NHL training camps have just opened up across North America, but I came across a great highlight package earlier today from way back in 2002 that I thought I’d share.

The year was 2002, and this was the first Young Stars game ever held at the NHL All-Star game, which took place at the Staples Centre, in Los Angeles.  Famed ex-Kings coach, Barry Melrose coached one team, and had the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Brad Richards and Roberto Luongo in his lineup.  The other team was coached by Jim Fox, ex LA Kings player and current broadcaster.  He had a lineup which was led by Mike Comrie, Mike Fisher, Marian Gaborik, Mike Ribeiro and Dan Blackburn.

Gary Thorne and Darren Pang appear to be providing the commentary on ESPN.

Some of the key highlights from this classic game:

  • So many ugly expansion, 90s era jerseys on display (Atlanta, Nashville and Phoenix especially)
  • Darren Pang: “Between Kovalchuk and Heatley, hockey in Atlanta is in great shape!” (0:35) after a great move and goal by Heatley.  Shame it did not work out as expected.  Watching Dany Heatley highlights from before the Dan Snyder accident and death is like watching a completely different player.  In these days, Heatley was fresh and fun, wore a gigantic smile and looked like he enjoyed playing hockey.  However, since then he has progressively become more dour and unlikable.  Part of it could be physical, as he suffered a gruesome eye injury during the 2004/05 lockout which partly changed his complexion, and ever since then he has worn a dome shaped visor.  But his attitude has altered our view of him, as he wanted out of Atlanta, then Ottawa (and refused to accept a trade to Edmonton), and then San Jose.  These negotiations were generally felt to have been handled in such an immature manner, that we turned on him. Heatley has since become an almost poster-boy for the petulant, spoiled, professional athlete.  It is somewhat sad to state this, considering how much fun he looked to be having back then.
  • Mike Comrie dangles at 1:00.  Incredibly stated by Gary Thorne and Darren Pang, Comrie had 20 goals at the time of the all-star break.  Not bad for a 21 year old player, who was later shipped out in 2003/04 after a contract dispute gone bad with the Oilers.  Comrie’s career never rivaled the heights of his first stint with the Oilers.  Maybe he should have just signed that contract that Kevin Lowe was offering.  It would have worked best for both sides.
  • As the highlights role, it becomes clear that this became the Ilya Kovalchuk show. Count the number of highlight reel moves from this guy.  He nets 6 goals, and clearly looks like the best player on the ice.  In the 11 and a half years that passed since this game, he and fellow Russian, Pavel Datsyuk have had the best careers.  It will be interesting to see how history remembers Kovalchuk, now that he is “retired” and has gone back to Russia. He was a magnificent talent, who played in two quiet markets, who probably was not as appreciated as much as his talents warranted.
  • So many expansion team players as the clip continues: this is Sunbelt hockey!  All the “southern” teams from that era appear to have a “Young-Star” in the game, resulting from poor positioning in the standings and high draft picks.
  • The Classic NHL on ESPN song: Ah!  I never grew up watching hockey in America, but I remember playing the video game which had this as the theme music.  To me, this was a very nostalgic moment hearing it.
  • Mike Ribeiro demonstrates some nifty hands, and has some great feeds in this game.  Ribeiro looks his lean self, but you can see the skill that the kid possessed.  Despite his hockey skills, unfortunately I felt that Ribeiro did not have the mental strength to deal with the pressures of playing in Montreal.  He could have been a hometown hero for the Canadiens, but Montreal has a way of chewing up players before they make it.  It is almost a test of your mental fortitude, and if you pass it, you get to carry the torch.  The most classic case was with Guy Lafleur, who was heavily criticized for his first two seasons in the NHL before he broke out.  Many attribute Lafleur taking off his helmet, and facing the challenge head-on, as the seminal step.  Ribeiro was afflicted by the pressure, and did not mature enough in his short time in Montreal.  I don’t necessarily blame him… most players would wilt under that pressure.  Could this be a cautionary tale for Alex Galchenyuk?  Stick with the program?  I remember watching Ribeiro’s first game back in Montreal as a member of the Stars, and seeing this:

Did he grow up in Texas?  You could argue that perhaps he had not.

Anyway, so that was just a brief run down of the 2002 NHL Young Stars game.  It provided a window of which players would be impactful over the coming decade (Kovalchuk, Heatley, Datsyuk, Luongo), and those that were largely forgettable due to a variety of reasons (Paul Mara, David Tanabe, Kyle Calder and Tim Connolly).  It also showcased several players that may be on their last leg of their NHL careers (Brendan Morrow, Brad Richards, Dany Heatley), and reminded us all of how fleeting some careers can be.

– Jaideep Kanungo, Hockeyland Canada


2 responses to “Retro Hockey: 2002 NHL Young Stars Game

  1. Great post. A few comments, echoing yours:
    -Despite the ugly expansion unis, Ottawa needs to bring back those jerseys. They were beautiful, great logo and perfect color scheme. The black ones especially. I hate their current cartoon logo, absolutely terrible.
    -I was a big Heatley fan when he broke into the league, a few moments stick out, including a beauty of a dangle goal in his hometown vs Calgary in his rookie season and the show he put on in the main all-star event the year after. He had a cannon of a shot, especially the one-timer, which I tried to emulate in my own game.
    -God, how I miss the Comrie toe drag. He used to try it multiple times a game, usually to no avail and would get stripped of the puck or nailed, but when he did pull it off, it was a thing of beauty. I thought he was going to be the next big thing in Edmonton, after this moment:
    -I don’t care what anyone says about Ribeiro or his supposed attitude issues, he is a damn entertaining hockey player, especially on a breakaway or in a shootout.

  2. Heatley had (and perhaps still does have) the ability to unload a shot without much of a windup. Picture him skating up the wing, getting close to his defender, and then firing a rocket on net. Nowadays, Heatley’s skating appears to have suffered, and he seems more like a stationary player.

    Yeah, I thought Comrie would have been a suitable Doug Weight replacement, when Weight was traded. It interesting that we mention both Comrie and Ribeiro in the same article. They both were hometown players, playing on their boyhood teams, and were heavily anticipated by both fanbases. Sometimes that pressure to carry your hometown team is too much, and it’s far easier to go elsewhere. Has there been an NHL player in the last 20 years who has been a true hometown hero for his NHL team?

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