Vancouver, British Columbia
Wayne Gretzky would like to add to the 12 goals he's scored in 16 All-Star appearances, making him the career scoring leader in hockey's showcase game.
With scoring down in the NHL this season and a switch to a North America vs. the World format for Sunday's game, Gretzky and several other All-Stars are looking forward to breaking out.
``This is a good change. We needed to do something to spice up the game,'' he said Friday. ``10-8 games are not really what our game is about. I love goal-scoring as much as anybody.''
After several years of high-scoring games, the game was competitive in 1994 (a 9-8 victory by the Eastern Conference) and 1996 (a 5-4 win by the East).
``You still might see a 7-6 game or a 6-5 game, but it's going to be a lot more intense,'' said Gretzky, whose 17th appearance Sunday will extend his record for consecutive games played.
Philadelphia's John LeClair, a North America All-Star, and Anaheim's Teemu Selanne of the World team entered the break tied for the league scoring lead with 33 goals.
Last season, just four players scored at least 50 goals and only eight reached that plateau in 1995-96. That's down from the 14 50-goal scorers during the 1992-93 season.
``I understand that it's a different format, but everyone will still have the same spirit,'' said Colorado's Patrick Roy, goaltender for North America. ``Everyone wants to score.''
At the break, NHL games are averaging 5.28 goals putting the league on pace for its lowest-scoring season in 42 years. Theories for the downturn abound, from improved goaltending to bigger goalie pads to defensive-oriented systems to a dearth of gifted scorers due to expansion.
But while scoring has steadily decreased since games averaged 8.3 goals during the 1981-82 season, offense has been booming in the All-Star game.
The stars combined for a then-record 12 goals in 1983, and that was only the beginning. There were 13 goals in 1984, 14 in 1989, 19 in 1990, 16 in 1991 and 1992, 22 in 1993, 17 in 1994 and 18 last year.
In the 1990s, the average All-Star game has produced 16.7 goals.
``I think it'll be high-scoring as usual,'' said Dallas' Mike Modano of the North America squad. ``I don't think there's going to be much defense.''
Aside from the new format, there will be an additional uniqueness to this year's game because the Winter Olympics are three weeks away.
The United States and Canada are favored to battle in the gold-medal game, with Canada eager to avenge its 1996 World Cup loss to the Americans. Yet come Sunday, they will band together.
The World squad also will feature players from Olympic archrivals teaming up: Sweden and Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson, a Swedish forward, expects it to be ``the most competitive'' All-Star game of recent years.
``We want to put on a show for the fans ... (but) it's European hockey versus North Amerian,'' he said. ``I bet both sides want to win.''
By BETH HARRIS AP Sports Writer
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