RALEIGH — It seemed to be a foregone conclusion Eric Staal would be selected for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game, and the Carolina Hurricanes captain was Tuesday.
Anyone who has been watching this season had to figure the Canes' Jeff Skinner would be one of the 12 rookies picked for the NHL Honda SuperSkills competition during the All-Star Weekend, and he was.
Then there was Cam Ward.
Everyone associated with the Hurricanes believed their star goaltender deserved to play in the Jan. 30 All-Star Game at the RBC Center. His numbers were up to snuff and it was his home arena. At the same time there was stiff competition at the position, and Ward's selection for his first All-Star Game appearance wasn't assured.
On Tuesday, the NHL announced the full 42-player pool of all-stars, and Ward was named. The guessing over and the tension eased a bit, Ward could joke about the often wide-open and high-scoring all-star games, saying they're not "goalie friendly" and letting Canes coach Paul Maurice add a punch line:
"It's a big honor for him and I'd be really happy if they decided not to play him. It'd be perfect: make the team and then sit on the bench and watch it."
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins was the goaltender selected in the fan balloting that ended Jan. 3. The first six all-stars, led by Sidney Crosby of the Penguins, were chosen in the online voting.
The next 36 players, picked by NHL Hockey Operations with input from the league's general managers, were announced Tuesday. The players now will vote on team captains who will select the teams in the new "Fantasy Draft" on Jan. 28. That caused Ward to quip he would vote for Staal "so I can hopefully get selected a little bit higher than if somebody else is choosing."
Fleury and Ward are joined by goaltenders Tim Thomas (Boston), Carey Price (Montreal), Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers) and Jonas Hiller (Anaheim). Ward, 26, is ranked second in the NHL this season in total saves (1025) and has a 17-11-5 record. He has a .925 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average.
"Obviously, I'm pretty excited," Ward said. "You know it's pretty special to be recognized as an All-Star in this league. ... Being my first All-Star appearance, that's one thing. And to have it in your home building is going to be a special experience."
Staal, the MVP of the 2008 All-Star Game, will be making his fourth straight appearance, a franchise record. Another all-star selection this year is brother Marc Staal, a Rangers defenseman, who will be playing in his first All-Star Game.
"It's an honor every time," Eric Staal said. "You want to be recognized among the elite of the league. For me to be a part of that this year is an incredible honor especially being in our home building in front of our fans and enjoy the experience."
The Honda SuperSkills competition will be held Jan. 29 at the RBC Center, and Skinner said it was "pretty surreal" he would be a part of it and the All-Star Weekend festivities. Skinner, the youngest player in the league, leads NHL rookies in scoring this season but was stumped when asked what skill competition might be his best.
"I have to do a process of elimination of the skills I can't do," he said, smiling. "I don't have a really hard shot and I'm not an incredibly fast skater. Maybe it's accuracy shooting. I'm not sure."
There could be some added pressure on Skinner. The 12 rookies will be divided into two groups by the NHL. One rookie will be designated to choose - after the 15th round of the fantasy draft - the All-Star team his group will join during the skills competition.
Who knows, that could be Skinner as the "hometown" rookie. Then again, it might be as easy as choosing "Team Staal," if Staal is voted one of the captains.
"I think it will be fun for everyone," Staal said. "The draft will be something different for the players and the fans. I think it's pretty cool."
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