Blue Jackets’ coach Craig Hartsburg reminisces about All-Stars

Columbus Blue Jackets associate coach Craig Hartsburg has perspective to share for the players who will represent their team during All-Star Weekend.

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One week from today, Blue Jackets forwards Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen, along with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky will play in their first NHL All-Star Game in Columbus. It will surely be a memorable experience for all three to not only play in the game, but also to play in front of the hometown fans.

There is just one other player on the current roster that knows that special feeling of playing in an All-Star game. Forward Scott Hartnell played in the 59th NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa in 2012.

But, there is a person in the Blue Jackets organization that has appeared in three All-Star Games. Drafted in the first round (sixth overall) of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, associate coach Craig Hartsburg went on to play for ten years in the NHL, all with the team that drafted him, the Minnesota North Stars.

In 570 NHL games, he recorded 98 goals and 315 assists for 413 points. For seven of the ten years he played for Minnesota, he was the North Stars captain. His best season was 1981-82, notching 17 goals, 60 assists for 77 points and a +11 rating. He went to the Stanley Cup Finals with the North Stars in 1981 and played in three All-Star games in 1980, 1982 and 1983.

"It’s a great feeling, obviously, to be selected for the game," said Hartsburg. "The guys here (Foligno, Johansen and Bobrovsky), they should be very proud of being there. There are seven hundred-plus players in the league and you get a chance to play in THE All-Star Game."

"And for these guys to play here at home, at the end of their careers this will be one of the moments that they hopefully remember. It’s a special part of their career."

The 60th edition of the NHL All-Star Game will be played in Columbus, the first time the city and franchise have hosted this event. Having three players from the Blue Jackets participating makes it that much more special, for players and fans alike.

"It never happened for me," Hartsburg said, "but I believe it would be, because the crowd will be acknowledging that you’re a Blue Jacket and you’re ours. It will be a pretty exciting time for them."

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When Hartsburg took the ice on February 5, 1980 for his first All-Star game, he was playing with players that many hockey fans have come to recognize as having almost legendary status in the NHL. Players like Bob "Le Capitaine" Gainey, Mike Bossy, Phil Esposito and Guy "Le Demon Blond" Lafleur. Former Blue Jackets TV color analyst Danny Gare was playing his first All-Star game that year, also.

There was another player making his All-Star debut in 1980 having just turned 19 years old ten days before the game, by the name of Wayne Gretzky. He would come to be known as "The Great One."

"It was amazing," said Hartsburg of that night in 1980. "There are a lot of things about my career I don’t remember, but that was a night I’ll never forget. The reception that he (Gordie Howe) got in Joe Louis (arena), which was, and I’m dating myself here, a brand new arena (built in 1979)… it was just an amazing atmosphere."

Gordie Howe, affectionately called "Mr. Hockey", made his 23rd and final appearance in an All-Star game that year.

"For me as a young player, I played against Gordie Howe in the World Hockey Association, and just to be in that environment with so many great players… I was pretty much in awe the whole night. It was pretty neat."

Not only did he play, Hartsburg scored a goal in the third period of his first All-Star game. He was assisted on the goal by Real Cloutier and Hockey Hall of Fame player Jean Ratelle.

"I don’t remember the whole thing, but I scored. It was like a blur, but a pretty memorable experience, for sure."

Just as this years’ All-Star game will showcase the best players in the world together in Columbus, so too, does each edition of the event. Many players that have gone on to become legends of the game or Hockey Hall of Famers have played in an All-Star game. As a second-year pro, Hartsburg had players that he looked up to, also.

"Larry Robinson," he said, "I remember sitting in the dressing room with him; at that point of my career, it was my first year in the league and my second year as a pro. I played in the World Hockey Association (Birmingham Bulls, 1978-79). But, the first year in the National Hockey League to be sitting in the dressing room with guys like that."

"Just skating around during warm-up and looking at both, both ends of the rink was, like I said, I was in awe most of the night. It was great. I think after you’ve been to a few of them, there’s still an excitement. But, I think the first one is the one you’ll always look back at. The one’s I played in on Long Island (1983) and Washington (1982), I remember them, but the one in Detroit was special."

When it comes to ranking special moments in a players’ career, being selected for and playing in an All-Star game is right near the top. To be selected to that roster means that a player is thought of highly enough that he is chosen to represent his team and the league to the rest of the world.

But where does playing in an All-Star game rank with playing your first game in the league or scoring your first NHL goal?

"I think the All-Star Game would be more special because you’re being honored. When you look at other things in the league, playing in the playoffs and competing for a Stanley Cup is obviously way more important, in your career, to do those things. To get the honor and the privilege to play in the All-Star Game is pretty special."

Hartsburg’s advice for Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen and Sergei Bobrovsky is to soak up the atmosphere and have fun. For a few days next weekend, Columbus is the center of the hockey universe. The key is for players and fans alike to enjoy themselves and celebrate the game of hockey with the best players in the world.

 

The Blue Jackets return to action Monday night in Minnesota as they take on the Wild at 8 p.m. The FOX Sports Ohio pregame and post-game show "Blue Jackets LIVE" will be broadcasting live from the NHL ASG Winter Park beginning at 7:30 p.m.