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NHL All-Stars, Ohio State football share stage in Columbus

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — John Davidson has traveled the world playing, talking about and scouting professional hockey.

He says his current outpost is a great place that few know about.

"Columbus, to me, in some ways, is a very well-kept secret," said Davidson, the director of hockey operations for the NHL's Blue Jackets.

That might change this weekend. The city and the Blue Jackets have a busy, busy few days in the spotlight.

Ohio's capital city will be the venue for this weekend's NHL All-Star game, including the player draft on Friday night, a skills competition on Saturday and the game itself on Sunday at downtown's Nationwide Arena. There are many other related events, drawing thousands of visitors and television viewers.

Meanwhile Ohio State, with its sprawling campus just a couple of miles from downtown, will celebrate its national championship in college football at massive Ohio Stadium on Saturday morning. Coach Urban Meyer and his players will speak to what's expected to be a huge crowd while accepting trophies for their 14-1 run to the title.

Gene Smith, the athletic director at Ohio State, considers it an embarrassment of riches.

"When you think about our city and all the great things that have happened here over the years, this is probably one of those exemplar moments," he said. "The NHL All-Star game and weekend activities, just by itself, is phenomenal. But then to be able to showcase the national championship, all the media attention for both of those events for our city, it's going to be unreal."

By Thursday morning, a sledding "hill" had been built on two lanes of the brick thoroughfare next to the hockey arena downtown, topped by tons of snow that had been trucked in. There was a line of dozens of kids waiting to slide and glide down the bumpy slope.

Nearby, just behind an old stone arch that is one of the city's symbols, a large ice rink sits outside. There are free skates for the general public and the occasional hockey game. The skaters can warm up with coffee and hot chocolate at one of the nearby heated tents.

Months of planning has gone into the All-Star festivities. Columbus was originally picked in January 2012 to host the event the following year. But management's lockout of the players disrupted that plan. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, however, made good on a promise to have Columbus host the game as soon as possible, awarding the city this year's event.

Columbus is also one of the finalists to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Mayor Michael B. Coleman looks at all that's going on this weekend and sees it as a trial run.

"This is one of the best opportunities to showcase our city to an international audience," Coleman said. "They can see how Columbus pulls off big events, and they can get a better idea of who we are as a city."

Of course, not much wiggle room was permitted for the plans for Ohio State's national championship celebration. The title wasn't decided until Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, when the Buckeyes beat Oregon, 42-20.

Even though the football team's big day will be held outside in temperatures in the 30s, it wouldn't be a major surprise if Buckeye fans flooded the place. After all, more than 90,000 once showed up for a spring practice game at Ohio Stadium.

Smith says Ohio State officials have been working with those from the Blue Jackets. During the national championship celebration, some of the events associated with the All-Star game will be mentioned on the video monitors.

Cabs, hotel rooms and seats in restaurants and bars will come at a premium on such a busy sports weekend.

The Blue Jackets and the Buckeyes are happy to share top billing.

"The more the merrier," Davidson said, laughing.


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