TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews and his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates soaked in the spotlight of NHL All-Star Weekend as the hometown fan favorites, and they gave the crowd the ending it wanted.
Matthews scored twice, including a game winner, and had an assist to beat reigning MVP Connor McDavid’s team 7-4 in the final of the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament on Saturday. Matthews, the U.S.-born face of Canada's richest franchise who last summer re-signed to stay in Toronto through 2028, was named MVP.
Leafs forward Mitch Marner also had a goal, and he and Matthews were able to celebrate with teammates Morgan Rielly and William Nylander as the entire team splits the $1 million prize.
“The whole weekend in itself is special for all of us, especially the host city and the hometown guys," Matthews said. “Nice to cap it off with a win, and everybody goes home happy.”
Team Matthews winning the finale of a new-look All-Star Weekend, featuring the return of the popular player draft and a redesigned skills competition, in the Leafs home rink made it a dream event for the league on the ice. Off the ice, the Hockey Canada sexual assault investigation and charges pending against four current NHL players loomed over the festivities, which also included an Olympic agreement for 2026 and 2030.
The success of the Leafs quartet came a day after McDavid stole the show by winning the skills competition he played a big role in altering. As much as the Edmonton Oilers captain was motivated Friday night, Matthews' team cared about getting the job done in the 3-on-3 tournament.
“We wanted to win, for sure,” Matthews said. “Talking in the locker room, I don’t think there was much messing around. Everybody was on the same page to try to go out there and put in a pretty good effort and try to come out with a good result.”
Marner wouldn't have it any other way. Growing up in nearby Markham, Ontario, watching All-Star Games growing up, being in one in Toronto was something he cherished.
“You always dream of being a part of one,” Marner said. “To have it in this city, it’s pretty remarkable and to be able to enjoy with the ones that got me to where I am, it’s even better.”
It couldn't have been much better for Rielly, a first-time All-Star who did not expect to feel nervous before the 3-on-3 exhibition.
“I think when you’re in that environment around all those elite players, I think I was a little nervous,” Rielly said.
The event that leaned into being in Canada's biggest city had plenty of star power — and not just in hockey. Singers Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé and Tate McRae and actor Will Arnett served as celebrity captains — and McRae performed at an MVP-caliber level between the semifinals and final.
“Just cool to have somebody like (Bieber) and the other celebrities we had over the weekend come in,” Matthews said. “They’re so down the earth and engaging with players, staff, people that are around.”
New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette got to spend a lot of time with Arnett, who was behind the bench for the 3-on-3 tournament. Arnett also may have provided a little bit of the winning motivation to end an eventful All-Star Weekend on a high note.
“He gave a speech before the first game that was right up there with some of the best,” Laviolette said. “For a guy like him to come in — a huge fan of the game, loves the game — (and) to be a part of that is really good.”
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