Indeed, the league’s leading goal scorer stole the show during Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game tournament. He closed a revamped weekend of festivities at the league’s annual showcase by winning the contest’s top honor in Team Matthews’ 7-4 victory over Team McDavid in the 3-on-3 finale.
Three of Matthews’ teammates with the Maple Leafs — Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly and William Nylander — were all part of Team Matthews and contributed to the title on their home ice at Scotiabank Arena.
“The whole weekend in itself is special for all of us,” Matthews said. “Especially the host city and the hometown guys.”
While Matthews owned the spotlight, it was Marner — a born-and-raised Torontonian — who found the entire experience particularly meaningful.
“[It was] amazing,” he said. “I’ve dreamt of being in All-Star games my whole life. I’ve watched All-Star games from my couch, [from] my carpet with my parents. Just watching [Sidney Crosby] and [Jason] Spezza, [Marian] Hossa, Owen Nolan, and the list goes on and on. You always dream of being a part of one. To have it in this city, it’s pretty remarkable, and to be able to enjoy it with the ones that got me to where I am, it’s even better.”
Marner dented the scoresheet several times across his two games Saturday, one of many to do so on a day that featured four All-Star rosters — determined by captain selections in Thursday night’s player draft — icing two preliminary games. The winners met in the final.
On Thursday, Matthews had help in the draft from co-captain Rielly and celebrity captain Justin Bieber. Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon was joined by co-captain and his teammate in Denver Cale Makar and celebrity captain Tate McRae in selecting his squad. Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid was joined by co-captain and teammate Leon Draisaitl along with celebrity captain Will Arnett. And Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes, with co-captains Jack Hughes, his brother and star from the New Jersey Devils, and Elias Pettersson, also of the Canucks, plus celebrity captain Michael Buble, chose the other team.
Those lineups were put to the test on Saturday. Team McDavid defeated Team MacKinnon 4-3 in a Game 1 shootout to advance, later joined by Team Matthews after it topped Team Hughes 6-5, also via shootout.
That set the stage for a final headliner by McDavid — the hometown skater and $1 million prize winner from Friday’s skills competition — and Matthews, who posted 40 goals for the Maple Leafs before the All-Star break.
With that type of star power, even Rielly had to admit the stakes were high.
“The only thing that surprised me at all was nerves,” he said. “I didn’t expect to get nervous or anything like that before the game. And I think when you’re in that environment around all those elite players, I think I was a little nervous and I didn’t expect that myself.”
Matthews’ team got rolling early, when Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller blasted a goal past Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. But that 1-0 lead evaporated when Columbus Blue Jackets star Boone Jenner came through for Team McDavid against New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin, making it 1-1.
Nashville Predators star Filip Forsberg struck fast in the second period, beating Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to give Team Matthews a 4-3 lead. The captain added some insurance for his club off a blistering one-timer to make it 5-3 for Team Matthews with five minutes to go in regulation.
Detroit Red Wings forward Alex DeBrincat extended the Team Matthews lead before a response by San Jose Sharks star Tomas Hertl put Team McDavid within striking distance. It was New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal‘s goal with just over a minute left that sealed Team Matthews’ win.
“It was nice to cap it off with a win, and everybody goes home happy,” Matthews said. “We wanted to win, for sure. Talking in the locker room, I don’t think there was much messing around. Everybody was on the same page to try to go out there and put in a pretty good effort and try to come out with a good result.”
In doing so, the players displayed the parity — and excitement — the NHL hoped to recapture at its All-Star Game when bringing back the player draft, which last ran in 2015.
“In front of the hometown fans,” Marner said, “we wanted to give them a show.”
The NHL will resume its regular-season schedule Tuesday.