LOS ANGELES — Wayne Simmonds is returning home with plenty of souvenirs from his first NHL All-Star Game.
There are autographed jerseys, plaques and memorabilia. There is a Most Valuable Player trophy and the new truck that comes with it. There is a share of the $1 million bonus given to the winning team.
And there is a one dollar bill that was taped to his nameplate in the victorious Metropolitan Division locker room, but neither Simmonds nor his All-Star teammates knew how it got there.
“I don't even know who did that to be honest with you,” Simmonds said. “I’m still trying to figure it out. It says ‘enjoy the money’ on it. I have no clue who it was. But I'll take it. That will be my lucky dollar bill now. I'll throw that in my pocket.”
Simmonds created plenty of his own luck before acquiring that dollar bill, scoring three goals during two games Sunday, including the winner with 4:58 remaining as the Metropolitan Division defeated the Pacific Division, 4-3, in the final of the 3-on-3 mini-tournament (see Twitter reactions to Simmonds' day).
Speeding past his former Los Angeles Kings teammate and best friend Drew Doughty on a 2-on-0 break, Simmonds took a pass from New Jersey forward Taylor Hall and easily buried it past Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith to cap a memorable return to the Staples Center.
While the four Chicago Blackhawks representatives and members of the Kings’ California rivals were booed mercilessly during pregame introductions — Sharks goalie Martin Jones, another friend and former L.A. teammate of Simmonds, got the best of it with a 50-50 mix of cheers and abuse — Simmonds was greeted with universal admiration despite having played for the Flyers for nearly six seasons now.
The gesture was very much appreciated.
“When you leave a place, you don't expect to come back and get all the cheers as I did today, but I must have did something right when I was here,” Simmonds said. “I know I had a lot of die-hard fans here, and I really appreciate those people.”
Simmonds showed the tremendous improvement in his game since leaving L.A. immediately in the Metropolitan Division’s opening 10-6 win over the Atlantic Division. scoring the opening goal. Dispossessing Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson in the offensive zone, Simmonds skated the other way and fought through Karlsson’s resistance to beat Montreal’s Carey Price.
His other two goals featured similar bursts of speed, shooting and handles, a bit of a departure from Simmonds’ trademark heavy style of play. It wasn’t lost on his linemate for the afternoon.
“Traditionally he is a power-play guy, plays in front of the net, but as you saw today he has got a lot more skill than that and can really open it up in the open ice,” Hall said. “Guys in the league, we know that, but maybe fans don’t. To see a guy like that, his first All-Star Game and win MVP, that’s what the weekend is all about.”
Capping a weekend heavy on both the nostalgia and history of the NHL in its 100th season, and highlighting a promising wave of new talent, Simmonds’ performance also shined a light on the growing diversity of the game.
Simmonds was one of four black players on the All-Star roster (joined by Columbus' Seth Jones, Buffalo's Kyle Okposo and Nashville's P.K. Subban), while goaltending great Grant Fuhr was among the 100 greatest players announced Friday, and participated in a pregame receiving line, where Simmonds received a big pat on the back from Flyers legend Bobby Clarke.
“We're trying to spread the game,” Simmonds said. “We're not necessarily trying to change the look of it, but just get different people in it and you get different avenues. Hockey is for everybody, so it's a great sport. I'm just trying to be a good ambassador and stuff like that, so it's great.”
Sid and Ovi Together
Injuries limited Sidney Crosby to just one All-Star Game appearance before Sunday, but he made up for lost time in a dream pairing with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
It took a while for them to get on the same page. Crosby didn’t score until 6:26 had elapsed in the second period of the opening game, while Ovechkin netted his lone goal of the afternoon with one second left against the Atlantic Division. They each posted minus-2 ratings in the final and did not contribute a point.
Still, the moment was not lost on hockey fans, whether they were watching on television, in the arena or sharing the same bench with two of the six active players included on the list of 100 greatest NHL players announced Friday night.
“They are the best players in the game right now and it’s awesome to see them playing together,” Jones said. “You see the battles they always have whether it is regular season or playoffs, just because they see each other so much in the Metro Division, but it’s awesome when you get competitive guys together and play on the same team."
The Next One
While Crosby and Ovechkin shared the spotlight, Connor McDavid showed why he has quickly emerged as the future face of the NHL.
The Edmonton Oilers’ young superstar had a goal and two assists in the Pacific Division’s 10-3 rout of the Central Division, delivering two breathtaking breakaways and an assist in one especially memorable 45-second span. McDavid scored another goal in the final against the Metropolitan Division, simply looking faster than everyone else even on the open ice of 3-on-3 with and against the best in hockey.