LOS ANGELES (AP) – Cam Atkinson thought he would be spending All-Star weekend in New York City with his fiancee and some Columbus teammates.
Instead, the Blue Jackets forward got to show what he can do on the other coast – and he evened pick up a few extra bucks to help pay for his wedding.
Atkinson scored three goals Sunday, including an unassisted, tying goal in the final game as the Metropolitan Division came back to beat the Pacific Division 4-3.
The 11-man Metropolitan team secured the $1 million bonus that will be split among members of the winning team. It should come in handy as Atkinson puts the finishing touches on his July nuptials.
“Obviously, having a wedding when you know so many hockey players, you have to wait to see who goes how far,” Atkinson said. “There’s only two or three months out of the year you can book a wedding. We kind of planned it accordingly.”
Atkinson is having an outstanding season for the surging Blue Jackets, but he was the last addition to the roster when Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin dropped out. Atkinson only found out about his inclusion last Wednesday night in an 11 p.m. phone call from Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
Atkinson immediately canceled his trip to New York, where the Blue Jackets play their first game after the break on Tuesday, and was rewarded with an experience that included slowly exchanging dozens of fist bumps with some of hockey’s greatest living legends during the pregame introductions.
“That was definitely the highlight for sure,” said Atkinson, the NHL’s 11th-leading scorer entering the break with 46 points in 48 games. “As slow as I was going, it seemed like it happened too fast. But just to interact with those guys, the alumni, the best players ever to play hockey, is really special.”
Atkinson wanted to shake hands and speak with every player on the ice. There wasn’t enough time to make that happen, but Atkinson did spend a few extra seconds with famed Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch. Atkinson and Leetch both attended Boston College and the same Connecticut high school.
When the games started, Atkinson and Columbus teammates Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky did their part in the 3-on-3 mini-tournament. Atkinson scored twice in a 10-6 over the Atlantic Division to advance to the final, while Jones formed a productive line with Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey’s Taylor Hall in both sessions.
The only Blue Jackets representative absent was coach John Tortorella, with Wayne Gretzky stepping in to coach the Metropolitan Division while Tortorella was dealing with a sick family pet.
Jones thought Atkinson made a strong case for Most Valuable Player, which went to Simmonds for scoring the winner in the final with 4:58 remaining.
Simmonds and Hall had a 2-on-0 breakaway coming off the faceoff following Atkinson’s tying goal, with Simmonds putting in his third goal of the afternoon just five seconds after Atkinson did the same.
While endorsing Atkinson for the game’s top honor, Jones couldn’t help but give his friend a bit of playful criticism for how he scored in a wide-open contest that did get noticeably more competitive in the closing minutes.
“That’s Cam cheating up ice and getting breakaways, that’s what he does,” Jones said.
When Atkinson gets back to Columbus, he has plenty of new mementos to add to his man cave, including the helmet he wore during the game – now covered in autographs from his fellow All-Stars – and some extra cash for wedding planning.
But the memories of the weekend will last even longer. Atkinson lingered in the Staples Center locker room, the last player still in his hockey pants.
“I’d glad he got to come,” Jones said. “It was a late call, but he deserved it.”