Even among players considered talented enough to be considered All Stars, there are those who are recognized as "the best of the best."
Gretzky. Howe. Hull. Lemeiux. Bourque.
Just saying those names brings images to your mind.
#9, seemingly immortal, tearing up the ice against men half his age.
#77, picking off targets with stunning precision, year after year.
#99, exceptional in almost every situation. showing virtuoso skill as he danced through some of the greatest defenders of his era.
A giant wearing #33 blasting the puck so hard that it requires a radar gun to track it.
A lot of us saw them on TV growing up, or captured in film. A few saw them in person, and the luckiest had the chance to see them cement their place in the record books. Perhaps, in a few days, we'll get a chance to join that number.
Until then, here's a few of those moments that stand, some more than 20 years later, to give you a taste of the magic we'll be hoping to see this weekend.
1980: We Will Never See His Like Again
I don't care what era you talk about, how the game has evolved, or what kind of equipment was legal - there simply was never a player like "Mr. Hockey" before his time, and I don't believe there will be another. In his 32 seasons as a professional hockey player, he was named to the All Star roster of the NHL or WHA a staggering 23 times - and in this video, he stepped onto the ice for one last time.
Appropriately enough, in a game held in Detroit, this video captures some of the best of an era - and then the crowd takes it to an entirely different level as #9 left the tunnel.
1983: Gretzky Goes Four
A few other players have scored four goals in an All Star Game (the most recent was Dany Heatley back in 2003), but the first to do it was none other than the Great One, lighting it up for the Campbell conference on their way to a 9-3 thrashing of the Wales all stars.
1990: Anything You Can Do....
Wayne was first to score four. but Super Mario remains the fastest. There are players who will argue who was best, but there's no question that in this case, Lemieux has the edge.
2008: Rick Nash Breaks It Open
Now, there's a case that Rick DiPietro might have been a little distracted by Doc Emerick yammering in his ear, but it's still pretty fantastic to watch Rick Nash bust in and nail the fastest ever goal in an All Star Game on his way to join the elite club of players who scored a hat trick (or better) in the ASG.
Anything going faster than 100 mph is probably something you don't want to be hit by. Usually that means we're talking about cars, trucks, or low flying aircraft, but in this case, as he dueled Shea Weber in the Skills Competition for the title of the biggest cannon in the game, Zdeno Chara shattered his own record (and a significant fraction of the sound barrier) with this blast.
1992: 4 for 4 (again, and again, and again...)
Of course, power is great, but precision matters just as much. That's where another great Boston defender made his mark on the record books. Ray Bourque was basically the undisputed king of the accuracy relay, destroying four targets with four shots in five of his eight ASG apperances - and never failing to dispose of all four targets.
2012: Fastest Man On Ice
The last part of the skills trifecta after power and precision is speed, and the reigning king of speed earned his crown the same year that Chara scorched the air with his shooting power. Carl Hagelin's 13.218 second time in the fastest skater course broke a record set by Mike Gartner in 1993...when Hagelin was 5 years old.
1997: Calling His Shot
Of course the best part about hosting the All Star Game is watching your hometown heroes there, and one of the best moments came for fans in San Jose when Owen Nolan lead the Western Conference to victory thanks to a dramatic third period hat trick...capped off by this beauty.
There's hubris, there's confidence, and there's calling your shot, in mid-stride, against Dominik freaking Hasek, and NAILING it. Good god.
These are just a handful of the great moments in the sixty year history of the game - the kind of things that turn casual fans into die hards, and the uninitated into fans for life.
I believe this weekend will be amazing for the fans lucky enough to attend no matter what happens...but I have to admit I'm hoping that in a few days, perhaps we'll have a moment or two to add to this collection.