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All-Star game will be a rare moment in spotlight for Seabrook

The 12-year-old in the Ray Bourque jersey in the front row at General Motors Place in Vancouver was in awe as the greatest players in the world skated right by him before the 1998 All-Star game. There was Brian Leetch and Al MacInnis, Peter Forsberg and Eric Lindros, Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek, all just a few feet away. Then Bourque himself approached.

And gave the youngster a quick wink.

“I spent the next two or three weeks telling all my friends,” Brent Seabrook recalled. “It was pretty cool.”

So no, next Sunday’s showcase in Columbus won’t be Seabrook’s first All-Star game. But it’ll be the first time he’ll be on the other side of the glass, on the ice, maybe even making some other young fan’s month with a wink or a smile.

Even though there hasn’t been one in three seasons, fans have become jaded on the All-Star game, a typically tepid affair featuring little hitting and even less defense. They’d rather get on with the playoff push, with the meaningful part of the schedule. But for the players, it’s still a big deal. Especially for a guy like Seabrook, making his first All-Star appearance in his 10th season.

“Oh, for me, it’s very exciting,” Seabrook said. “I’m not going to talk for anybody else, I can only talk for myself. But I can’t wait. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to since the fans voted me in.”

Seabrook is one of five Hawks among the six players voted in by the fans, joining Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford, the latter of whom will also be making his first appearance. While Chicago stuffed the ballot box, it’s hard to argue against Seabrook’s worthiness. Through 44 games, the bruising defenseman has seven goals and 15 assists, and is third on the Hawks in both blocked shots and hits. Joel Quenneville has been coaching Seabrook for seven years, and said this has been his best season defensively.

For a guy with two Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal, Seabrook has toiled in the considerable shadow of his longtime friend and defensive partner, two-time Norris Trophy-winner Duncan Keith. The All-Star game is a rare chance for Seabrook to get a piece of the spotlight.

“It’s hard to say why [he hasn’t gotten more recognition],” Toews said. “I guess maybe Duncs is the one getting most of the attention offensively, for the most part, but I think Seabs has really proven what he can do, what he can bring on both sides of the puck. We’ve always known it in this locker room.”

Indeed, while Seabrook often has been overlooked by the public, he’s anything but overshadowed in the Hawks dressing room. Toews is the captain and leader, and Keith and Patrick Sharp have the “A”s on their sweaters. But Seabrook is the beating heart of the Hawks, the bombastic and ebullient vocal presence who steps up and speaks up during the second intermission when a game or a playoff series hangs in the balance.

“He brings a lot,” Sharp said. “He’s great in the locker room. He’s a happy guy, he’s always in a good mood. What you see on the ice is he’s a big, strong, physical presence back there — big, heavy shot, plays a safe game. I know he’s overlooked and sometimes underrated in the NHL, but our locker room knows how valuable he is.”

One exhibition game in Central Ohio in late January won’t suddenly put Seabrook front and center — not on a team with four likely Hall of Famers and plenty of other star power. But it’s a nice nod — and maybe a wink — for a dependable stalwart.

“I think a lot of guys on this team might get overlooked because of the amount of talent we have,” Seabrook said. “But we know what we have in this room, and we know what we’re playing for. We’ve been lucky enough to win two Stanley Cups. Having my name on there — that’s all the recognition I need.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus