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Knights’ Chandler Stephenson enjoys unforgettable All-Star Weekend

Ford Stephenson didn’t want to leave the ice.

He got to take in the NHL All-Star skills competition up close Friday after his father, Chandler, competed in the fastest skater event. The 8-month-old was still taking in the lights, the colors and the people when it was time to head back to the locker room. He pulled on his dad’s shoulder when they went down the tunnel because he wanted to stay.

“He just loves the rink,” Chandler Stephenson said.

That memory is one of many Stephenson will treasure from his first All-Star Weekend in Sunrise, Florida. The Golden Knights center was a late addition, but still got to make the most of the experience with his family.

Starting with its newest member.

“It’s something that he obviously won’t remember, but just to look back at, see that he was there and have the pictures, the videos (is great),” Stephenson said. “Just having family there was special.”

Stephenson’s original plans for the Knights’ bye week were far different.

He and his fiancee, Tasha, were going to spend time at the beach with Ford and their dog in Santa Barbara, California. Then Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon reached out Jan. 30 with the good news: Seattle’s Matty Beniers was pulling out of All-Star Weekend with an injury, and Stephenson was in.

The family was in Florida two days later. Stephenson’s parents, brother and his brother’s girlfriend also made the trip.

Ford might have had the best weekend of all of them.

He got time by the pool. He took photos with Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin, his father’s former Washington teammate. He even had his brief trip on the ice, where he continued to show his early interest in hockey.

Stephenson said Ford already likes to take in warmups at T-Mobile Arena. He tries to give his son a puck every game, and usually the little guy chews on it.

“He’s so excited,” Stephenson said. “He’s very fascinated and interested in what’s going on.”

The only rough patches over the weekend came when Stephenson didn’t advance in fastest skater and the Pacific Division lost in the first round of Saturday’s All-Star Game. But that was secondary to the overall experience.

Coach Bruce Cassidy, who also represented the Knights, said the best part of the weekend was making memories with family. His two kids got the chance to meet some of their favorite players.

“I don’t think he’ll even remember if he won or lost in one of those things,” Cassidy said. “It’s more about the environment, the people you’re with.”

What Stephenson will look back on is the honor he was given, the friendships he struck up with fellow players and the time he got to enjoy with his family.

It wasn’t long ago he was a bottom-six grinder with Washington. His trade to the Knights for a fifth-round pick changed everything Dec. 2, 2019. Stephenson is now his team’s leading scorer and “one of the most underrated players in our league,” center Jack Eichel said.

That transformation led to an unforgettable weekend. Stephenson enjoyed every bit of it, even the tug on his shoulder asking for just a little more time on the ice.

“Even still right now, it doesn’t feel like it happened,” he said. “It’s crazy to think that you were a part of it.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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