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Just who does All-Star Game voting sensation

Just who does All-Star Game voting sensation
just-who-does-all-star-game-voting-sensation


The cup of hot tea and slightly raspy voice Dallas Stars Authentic Jersey suggested that the pride of a nation might be fighting something other than a cold. It was his 21st birthday, after all, and he was in New York City. A hangover would be understandable, if not expected. But Zemgus Girgensons, the young center for the Buffalo Sabres and Latvian national team and unlikely All-Star, quickly explained that he had spent part of his off day walking around outside the Sabres’ Times Square hotel, where the January temperatures and the thousands of tourists on Broadway had conspired to give him a cold. "It's like, how many people are in New York?" he wondered with a chuckle. "In Latvia, we've only got 2 million people. That's the crazy part." Riga, Latvia's capital and Girgensons' hometown, is a world away, both geographically and culturally, but the country's lone full-time representative in the NHL has -- however unintentionally -- bridged the gap in the most peculiar 21st-century of ways: through an online popularity contest. Hockey in the U.S boasts a relatively smaller fan base possessed of a unique knowledge and passion for the game. Still, when asked to name their sport's best, most popular players, fans wouldn't likely deviate from listing a familiar core of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Lundqvist et al. Those are all names one would expect to see headlining the ballot for the All-Star Game, to be played Jan. 25 in Columbus, Ohio, after a two-year hiatus due to the 2012 lockout and the Sochi Olympics. Few outside of Latvia would think of Zemgus Girgensons. Sure, the Sabres selected him 14th overall in http://www.nhlofficial.com/detroit-red-wings-c-1_161.html the 2012 draft, the highest slot ever for a Latvian player. He had spent some time in the now-defunct Eastern Junior league as a 15-year-old before jumping to the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints for two seasons, followed by time with the Rochester Americans of the AHL before joining the Sabres last season. Girgensons has scored only 19 goals and tallied 42 points in 111 NHL games, respectable numbers for a new player on a young, struggling team, but surely unworthy of an All-Star nod. Somebody forgot to mention that to the fans. Zemgus Girgensons got more All-Star votes than anyone else in the league. When fan voting wrapped up on Jan. 1, Girgensons finished with 1,574,896 votes. His closest competition -- almost 350,000 votes behind -- was Kane, he of the two Stanley Cup rings and one Conn Smythe Trophy, with 1,232,201. For those who would cry foul or allege a rigged system, save it. There are no improprieties here, no evidence of gerrymandering, a possibility that Brian Jennings, chief marketing officer for the NHL, quashed last month in an interview with The New York Times. "It is vetted, and the votes are legit," he said. "It's a big amount of fans that are coming from Latvia that are getting their vote out." Girgensons credits Latvian television networks and the power of social media for spreading word of the online vote throughout his country. One person can vote up to 10 times from one device in a 24-hour period and, according to the NHL, 79 percent of Girgensons' vote total came from Latvia. In July, Riga named itself the "European Capital of Wi-Fi," which might be a partial explanation. Regardless, it is a hockey-crazed nation, and its http://www.nhlofficial.com/patrick-kane-jersey-c-1_82_83.html citizens have latched on to its star. "It's always been a big deal back home," Girgensons said about the passion for hockey in his homeland. "Even as kids, we'd have people watching us; family is always there, everyone's all about it. When you're a kid, the national team is the one that you root for." "It's a little bit funny with all the voting stuff, but that's how it is," he said as he finished his tea and adjusted his toque before heading back up to his room to fight his cold in peace. "Definitely later in life, if you can make it on your own to the All-Star Game, that's a satisfaction for yourself. This is more satisfaction for the fans."

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