Monday, January 26, 2015

Voracek, in same breath as Lemieux, jobbed for ASG MVP

Columbus, OH -- The charmed season of Jakub Voracek continued in the resumption of All-Star festivities this weekend in Ohio's capital.

Already the league's leading scorer with 56 points as the National Hockey League paused for the first time in three years to put its top players on display, Voracek returned to the city he originally called home in North America and managed to perform a feat no other Philadelphia Flyer had accomplished previously.

In Team Toews' record-setting 17-12 victory over Team Foligno, he recorded a hat trick and became just the second player in the history of the sport to finish with six points. The other, Mario Lemieux -- though not in his powerful performance in Pittsburgh 25 years ago -- instead did it in a 6-5 overtime win by the Wales Conference over the Campbell Conference in St. Louis back in 1988.

And now that Voracek will be permanently matched with the Hall-of-Fame Penguins owner when we talk about All-Star scoring records, what was his reward? The satisfaction of his feat being exaggerated by future generations of hockey fans from the Delaware Valley and beyond. Because it certainly wasn't dominating enough to overcome the fix that was in once Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen gained MVP honors despite playing on a losing team.

"I think it's a little different, Voracek and Lemieux, right?" Voracek said. "No, but I had three secondary assists so I wouldn't get too excited about that. We had so many good players on each team. There was going to be a lot of goals.

OK, Jake. You go play like you have to play over the next 34 games, and the rest of us can do it for you. We'll also be screaming from the rooftops that you got jobbed. 

Things weren't much different back in 1980, the one and only time a member of the Orange and Black was voted the best player in an All-Star Game.

At Joe Louis Arena, the last mid-season classic appearance by Gordie Howe and the first for Wayne Gretzky, the Wales Conference took out the Campbell Conference by a 6-3 count thanks to six different players scoring. But it was Reggie Leach, on his way to recording his second and final 50-goal campaign, who somehow stole the spotlight with a goal and assist for the losing side.

No such luck for Mr. Hockey, then the NHL's all-time leading scorer, to gain extra recognition in his home arena. C'est la vie say the old folks. Goes to show you never can tell.

There have been a few good efforts since then that failed to draw sufficient notice. Mark Recchi netted a goal and four assists in a 16-6 Wales victory at Montreal in 1993, and John LeClair (2G, 1A) helped the East win 11-7 in San Jose four years later. Neither of those locations were of a particular comfort to either player.

Voracek looked comfortable in rolling out a career night in a place where he spent his first three seasons, and the man he was dealt for, Jeff Carter, was nowhere in sight.

"I saw people who I haven't seen forever," Voracek said. "Obviously I still have a lot of friends here. Even at the rink, when I walk in there was a lot of people I know. Hockey-wise, you're around the best players in the world. It's pretty special."

Despite the hidden symbolism and awkward positioning of Calgary Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau when he was plucked from the waiting line to essentially be Voracek's shooting proxy during Saturday night's skills competition, it was clear that the Czech native was intent on soaking up every last second of the good times.

"The last few days," Voracek said, "have been a lot of the most fun in hockey that I've ever had."

Once he returns to Philadelphia, the scenario is familiar, but less amusing.  Voracek and Claude Giroux (1G, 2A) are the leading 1-2 punch in the NHL with a combined 107 points but the lack of scoring depth has the club operating at 2.71 goals per game.

Giroux has been passed over twice for Hart Trophy consideration in each of the past two full seasons, and Voracek was left hanging after a performance which goes in the record books. You wonder what it will take for either player to be given his proper due with some hard-earned hardware.
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