The lineup for the 2015 NHL All Star game will feature five Blackhawks and one Buffalo Sabre thanks to powerful fanbases near and far.
Sabre forward Zemgus Girgensons took first place in votes and will join Hawks forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as well as defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and goaltender Corey Crawford for the Jan. 25 game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Girgensons amassed an impressive 1,574,896 votes throughout the six-week internet campaign. In 39 games this season, he has 11 goals and nine assists and is ranked 134th in the league in points with 20.
“It’s a little bit embarrassing and funny at the same time,” Girgensons recently told The Associated Press. “It came out of nowhere. I know people know me back home, but I didn’t think it was going to go that far. That’s like crazy far.”
But, he leaves quite an impression on those he encounters.
“He’s magnetic,” University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery, Girgensons’ former coach from USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, told The Toronto Globe and Mail. “People are drawn to him, and drawn to him for good reasons. It doesn’t matter what group he’s in, he leads in the right direction.
“He’s pulling people toward healthy outcomes. I follow him on Twitter and we still communicate quite often. And I see on Twitter, the starting quarterback for the Bills is wearing a Zemgus Girgensons Sabres jersey and he’s wearing the quarterback’s jersey when he goes to Bills games. He immerses himself in the culture he’s in and he embraces it, and I think people really embrace him because he’s genuine.”
Girgensons, from Latvia, may also have contributed to an increase in fan votes from outside North America. More than one-fourth of voters were outside of the NHL’s predominant fan-base, up 7,000 percent from the last All-Star game.
Kane took in 1,232,201 votes, for his fourth All Star invite. He leads the Blackhawks now with 18 goals (sixth in the league) and 23 assists for 41 points (seventh in the league).
“I think he’s the first winger I’ve played with that plays more like a centerman,” teammate and NHL veteran Brad Richards told ESPNChicago.com. “He’ll want the puck and distribute the puck. He can also score. A lot of the time, getting [the puck] into his hands is a good idea.”
Toews, the Blackhawks’ captain, will have his third visit. He was selected with 1,217,210 votes. Toews is a plus-12 so far this year, second among Blackhawks forwards, and has won 56.3 percent of faceoffs. He has 13 goals and 19 assists in 38 games played–ranking 23rd in points in the league.
Keith led defensemen with 1,198,173 votes to guarantee his third appearance. He has a plus-13 rating (23rd in the league) and 24 points in 37 games this season.
Seabrook has 21 points and is a plus-four in 38 games this year. His seven goals are two short of a career best. This will be his first All-Star appearance, thanks to 1,016,992 fan votes.
Regarding the fan vote, Seabrook told Chicago media, “It’s probably the only way I’d get in with the amount of talent and All-Stars on this team.”
The Keith-Seabrook duo lead the Blackhawks in ice time exceeding 22 minutes per game and are instrumental in the team’s league-leading 89.9 percent penalty kill and league’s fewest allowed 2.10 goals per game.
Crawford will also be making his All-Star debut, after leading goalies with 1,099,504 votes. He’s missed time with an off-ice injury, but in 23 games, Crawford has a .921 save percentage (ninth in the league) and a 2.13 goals-against average (ranked fifth). He’s 14-7-2.
Only these six spots come from fan votes–the league fills the rest of the roster and spots will be announced Jan. 10.
Last year’s All-Star weekend was canceled for the Winter Olympics, and the previous due to the lockout. Fan voting rose 52 percent from the 2012 campaign.
For comparison, the 2012 All-Star roster consisted of 12 forwards, 12 defensemen, six goalies and seven players who were selected but unable to participate for various reasons.
Columbus is hosting the event for the first time, with the Honda skills competition at 7 p.m. ET Saturday, Jan. 24 and the game at 5 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 25.
Blue Jackets executive vice president of business operations, Larry Hoepfner, said festivities begin with an All-Star Winter Park across from Nationwide Arena Jan. 16-25.
Beyond the game and skills competition are public skating and private events at the Winter Park, a 34-foot high and 85-foot wide snow slide stretching 175 feet along Nationwide Boulevard for use Jan. 22-25, and a “Hockey House,” with family-friendly activities, food, drinks, and live music.
“After all, we’ve got a beautiful arena here with the proximity to hotels and a convention center, things most cities don’t have and, of course, the wonderful Arena District which is very unique to Columbus,” he said of the vast bar and restaurant area around Nationwide Arena. “We want to take advantage of that and showcase Columbus to the entire world.”
The All-Star skills competition and game will be televised on NBCSN, CBC, and TVASports.