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Thursday, February 1, 2001
League backs All-Star format

The All-Star Game this Sunday marks the fourth meeting between the World Team and the North American Team. The NHL is the only league out of the big four that doesn't split the game between natural intra-league boundaries. Instead, the NHL splits its All-Star teams within world boundaries.

The rationale for it makes perfect sense. Despite the recent influx of international talent in both baseball and basketball, the NHL remains the most international of all North American professional sports leagues.

"There were actually a couple of reasons we thought about changing the formats (three years ago)," commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We were looking to take the All-Star Game to a new level of entertainment and excitement. Secondly, we were going to the Olympics and wanted to emphasize one of the great strengths of our game – the great diversity of our international talent."

Fine and dandy. The game itself has been a little more interesting because of the format – and because, sometimes, teammates end up facing each other. But the game is largely the same thing, namely a high-scoring, no-checking affair where the goalies are lucky to get out of there without their egos destroyed. Or in the case of Mike Richter last season – who still suffers lingering affects of a knee injury sustained in last year's Skills Competition – without their bodies damaged.

So, the question arises about whether this format will survive long-term, or whether the NHL might, one day, return to an East-West affair – perhaps, even North-South?

"It has been an unqualified success," said Bettman when asked about the new format. "The game is probably more emotional and competitive that normal All-Star games. It's 'Where I come from' vs. 'Where you come from'. But I'm a fairly flexible guy and a traditionalist. I'll always look at things that are new and exciting. The Olympics are next year, and we'll do this again.

"After the Olympics in 2002, we'll look at the international component and the All-Star format."

Brian A. Shactman covers the NHL for He can be reached at
Shactman: Teammates vs. Teammates

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Where East meets West

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