OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 28: Dion Phaneuf (left) and Joffrey Lupul (right) smile for the camera at the 2012 NHL All-Star Skills Competition while Phil Kessel (centre) places his hand tenderly on Phaneuf's inner upper thigh and awkwardly looks past the photographer.
OTTAWA, Ontario - From start to finish, the faithful in Ottawa made it abundantly clear how they felt about the presence of several of the best Toronto Maple Leafs coming into the city for the All-Star Game festivities: The booing started mercilessly during the Fantasy Draft, and continued through the Skills Competition and the game itself. It was no surprise, though, and the players were able to have a bit of fun with it.
At the Fantasy Draft, Team Chara assistant captain and Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul looked a little uncomfortable with the booing at first, but that didn't stop him from drafting his two teammates to the squad. Dion Phaneuf said the passion of the fans actually made the environment a little bit more fun after the draft.
"I think I probably would have been [booed whether drafted by Lupul or Daniel Alfredsson]," Phaneuf said. "But I really enjoyed it. It was fun to be here, and the fans were energetic throughout the whole event. I'm looking forward to the whole weekend."
Phaneuf also said he expected more of the same through the weekend, and the fans didn't disappoint.
Lupul looked to be having a bit more fun on Saturday at the Skills Competition. With boos raining down on him during the pre-event introductions, Lupul skated right to centre ice and, with a smirk on his face, tugged at the crest on his Leafs sweater to get the crowd going.
"I was playing it up a little bit," Lupul said after the weekend was done. "If you can make it a little more fun for the crowd, then why not?"
It wasn't just more fun for the crowd, though, and Lupul admitted that the atmosphere made it more memorable for him, too.
"The weekend's catered to the fans, the whole weekend, and if people are going to come and show some energy and some passion for their Ottawa team, and if they want to boo me or Dion that's cool, too," said Lupul. "As long as everyone's having a good time and enjoying themselves, it made it a little bit more memorable. Even for us."
Leafs winger Phil Kessel denied that the booing affected him during the weekend, but certainly noticed the love Ottawa has for Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson--something that he isn't exposed to as much during the regular season, when an influx of Toronto fans at Scotiabank Place lead to as many boos as cheers for Alfie.
"It's pretty special," Kessel said of Ottawa's passion for Alfredsson. "They love him here, he's a great player and a great guy. With the support of Ottawa and the fans, Alfredsson did really well."
All in all, the "hostility" between Toronto and Ottawa fans and players had a playful undertone to it during All-Star Weekend, which made it more fun for just about everyone involved (with rumours of a distasteful reference to Wade Belak notwithstanding). Finding ways to incorporate these rivalries into future All-Star Games would be a great idea for players and league officials to keep in mind.