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Will infusion of youth give the NHL all-star game more of edge this year?

The Canadian Press
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Dallas Stars\' Mike Modano carries the Stanley Cup into the arena for the NHL All-Star festivities in Dallas, Monday, Jan. 22, 2007. Modano is followed by members of the 1999 Dallas Stars team that won the cup. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Author: The Hockey News

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Will infusion of youth give the NHL all-star game more of edge this year?

The Canadian Press
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"It'll be a game," said the Dallas Stars netminder. "The young guys I think will be going after it."

With 20 first-time all-stars - most on the youthful side - could the 55th NHL all-star game Wednesday night have a little more edge to it with the new kids on the block trying to make an impression?

"It could be, that's interesting," said San Jose Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo, another first-time all-star. "There's a lot of young guys out here and I think they want to come out and prove they belong and maybe that'll bring a bit of competitiveness to it."

In reality, no one's expecting the all-star game to be marred by an actual bodycheck. But the young guys may be skating a little harder than the norm in this event.

"The young guys are always more excited," said Anaheim Ducks greybeard Teemu Selanne, playing in his 10th all-star game. "I remember my first year, I was so excited."

Veteran goalie Martin Brodeur frowned when he heard the theory.

"It's depends if the older guys get to them before that. Got to set the ground rules for them," he said with a laugh.

"But that's a good question. You do have a lot of young players here who will make the game spectacular. With having younger guys maybe it will be different. Geez, now I have to get ready," the nine-time all-star added with another chuckle.

First up Tuesday night comes the skills competition and YoungStars Game, the appetizer to the main event.

All eyes both nights will be on Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, both making their all-star debuts. Both are decidedly giddy already.

One couldn't make more than two strides in a crowded media interview area Monday at American Airlines Center and not hear their names mentioned. And most of the time it came from other players, who gushed about the two super sophomores.

"There's lot of guys with passion for the game, especially those two young guys, Crosby and Ovechkin," said Carolina Hurricanes centre Eric Staal.

Staal is just 22 himself and playing in his first all-star game. But like many players on hand Monday, Staal recognized what the two dynamos are doing for the game.

"I know our games usually start three hours later on the West Coast so I often watch Crosby and Ovechkin play early," said San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton. "They're a special kind of player and I think everyone realizes that."

Thornton won both the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy last season. Now he figures both will be Crosby's for many years to come with Ovechkin pushing him hard.

While all the other players were brought out like cattle in a large interview area Monday, Crosby and Ovechkin held a joint news conference. That came a few hours after both were present at the NHL's new uniform launch.

"The NHL is in great hands with those two kids, they're great ambassadors," said Turco. "They've made the game about them because of their play. They've earned it."

Both handled all the media attention with the smooth savvy of 15-year veterans. Except Ovechkin is just 21 and Crosby 19.

"There's a lot of questions coming my way about being the face of the NHL and things like that," said Crosby. "I don't put that pressure on myself to be that person but I also believe that hopefully I can be part of that group of guys that can show a good example and hopefully bring interest to the game.

"I do my best to play my part and be a good role model," he continued. "The easiest way to do that is by your on-ice performance. I think I'm one of a group of guys that does put the responsibility on my shoulders but I don't think it's solely on me."

Ovechkin seems to wear a permanent smile. Life is a bowl of cherries for the Russian star and all the attention doesn't seem to wear on him. And he figures his rival can handle it pretty well as well.

"We're young and we just have fun and right now we're here in the all-star game and it's unbelievable," Ovechkin said without breaking out of a smile.

They will be paired on the East's starting forward line with Daniel Briere of the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night, as voted by the fans, giving the hockey world a tantalizing glimpse of what they could do together if on the same NHL team.

"It's good that it's only the all-star game," said Selanne. "I think those guys could do a lot of damage on the same team."

Turco wonders what he'll do if they come down on a two-on-one Wednesday.

"I'll expect Sid to pass and Alex to shoot so probably they'll change it up to surprise me," he said.

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Will infusion of youth give the NHL all-star game more of edge this year?