GATINEAU, Que. — A mere 15-minute drive from the Ottawa Convention Centre and the NHL Fan Fair was a two-metre strip of sidewalk where the real all-star action took place on Thursday night.
All of the all-stars arrived at the Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel before the fantasy draft, with a few die-hard fans receiving an autograph and a chat with their favourite player.
The hotel entrance was cordoned off for the all-stars’ arrival, with two dozen fans braving the cold for a glimpse of the NHL’s best.
It was a sharp contrast to the packed casino nearby, the site of Thursday night’s fantasy draft. Three hundred people, many in jerseys and carrying team calendars and sharpie markers, squeezed near the red carpet.
“Did I miss anyone?” Rayne Merlo, nine, asked his dad in the hotel lobby.
“Nope,” his father, Joe Merlo said.
But retired all-star Rob Blake had just walked by.
“It would break his heart if I told him,” Joe Merlo said.
His son didn’t miss much, as many of the players didn’t stop.
“What does it take to sign an autograph?” Joe Merlo said. “That’s what the players are here for.”
Waiting near them was Mike Harding. He had just lost $500 dollars falling for an Internet scam. He had sent a money order for two tickets to Saturday’s skills competition, but the seller disappeared.
“It’s just a really bad experience,” he said. “A really bad start to the all-star weekend.”
His misfortune didn’t last long. Daniel Alfredsson, one of few players to stop for fans on the red carpet, signed his Ottawa Senators calendar.
“That just made up for everything,” Harding said as he clutched the calendar and a miniature hockey stick.
And even Rayne Merlo will get a special surprise — his dad is sending him to the skills competition as a birthday gift.