The streets of downtown Columbus were blanketed with a colorful collection of hockey apparel Saturday night, as fans from all over North America voyaged to Ohio’s capital city to experience the NHL’s All-Star Weekend.
Three years’ worth of anticipation radiated throughout the town, as Sunday’s matchup was the first time since 2012 that an NHL All-Star Game took place. In 2013, the game, which was originally planned to be in Columbus, was canceled because of a nearly four-month lockout. The Winter Olympics were the reason for the game’s absence the following year.
Many fans, though, said the impressive quality of the festivities was well-worth the wait.
“This is a first-rate event,” said Peter Gegick, an avid Pittsburgh Penguins fan who is considering attending Ohio State as a graduate student.
Gegick, along with two friends, spent the late afternoon at the NHL Fan Fair in the Greater Columbus Convention Center. From there, they journeyed over to Nationwide Arena to watch some of league’s top players compete in the Skills Competition.
“I am really impressed with the job the city and the NHL have done,” Gegick said. “It’s clear they know how to treat the fans.”
The Fan Fair included dozens of interactive activities, including a shooting lane sponsored by Bauer Hockey where participants could test out the company’s latest line of hockey sticks. Upper Deck provided visitors with a chance to make a personalized trading card, and the Stanley Cup was on display for fans to be photographed with.
Outside the convention center, the atmosphere was lively. Restaurants along Nationwide Avenue, and all throughout the Arena District, were filled.
On Nationwide Avenue, a 34-foot tall snow slide was assembled for fans of all ages. For $2, participants could zoom down the snow covered slide in an rubber inner tube, while spectators that passed by stopped to watch. For much of Saturday night, the slide had a substantial amount of people waiting in line.
Near the slide in McFerson Commons, a full-size NHL ice rink was assembled as part of the Columbus Blue Jackets All-Star Winter Park. The sound of skates carving up the ice echoed throughout the park, as hockey fans ranging from toddlers to adults took advantage of the rink.
Numerous fire pits were scattered around the park to provide warmth for fans. To go along with the rink, the Dispatch Media Group Hockey House was assembled in the park. The tent featured music, food and beverages. Next to the Hockey House, the Kids Zone presented a handful of family-friendly activities, such as a replica Columbus Blue Jackets locker room, face painting and air-hockey tables.
It was the combination of all these attractions that left some hockey fans pleased. John Sarkhanian, who flew in from Toronto for the game, had nothing but good things to say about the event. Sarkhanian made his first trip to Columbus with a group of friends and was pleased with the entire weekend. They had tickets for both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game itself on Sunday.
“It’s been a blast,” Sarkhanian said, while wearing his custom Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with his name on the back. “A few years back, the game was in Toronto and I couldn’t even get to it in my own city. It was overwhelming. Everything in Columbus was prepared and put together incredibly.”
Sarkhanian said the experience in Columbus, which was his first time attending an All-Star Game, was good enough to make him think about going to another city for the game in the near future.
For students Dalton Zemba, a third-year in construction management, and Drew Hill, a fourth-year in actuarial science, a chance to experience the All-Star Game in their own city was too good to pass up.
“We just wanted to come down, grab some food and experience All-Star Weekend,” Zemba said. “It’s the first time in Jackets history that they have hosted the game. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Hill added, “Sometimes the Jackets get overshadowed in the city but having this is great. We could use more things like this.”