Detroit -- The NHL All-Star Game is usually a lot more fun if you're not a goaltender, but that doesn't bother Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. He really is just happy to be there.
Howard wasn't even on the All-Star ballot but a write-in campaign and his stellar first-half numbers helped him reach his first All-Star Game, which will be held Sunday in Ottawa.
"With my numbers last year, I probably didn't warrant to be on there," Howard said. "We outscored a lot of teams last year to build wins. After the playoffs I had, I feel like I can take on more of a role and be more of a difference-maker for the guys. Im just playing with a lot of confidence."
That confidence translated into a league-leading 30 wins before the All-Star break. Howard needs just seven more victories to tie his career high, set and matched the last two seasons. Howard ranks fifth with a 2.03 goals-against average and ninth with a .924 save percentage.
Unlike some organizations, the Red Wings prefer to have their draft picks get plenty of experience before joining the NHL team. Howard, 27, spent four seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins before getting his first real chance in the 2009-10 season.
"I cant really disagree," Howard said of the way the Wings kept him in the AHL. "Of course it was frustrating when youre in the American Hockey League and you see other guys getting called up that you think youre just as good if not better and it can weigh on your mind. Im very thankful that they waited on me and let me progress at my own rate. It worked out for us.
While Howard is always quick to credit his teammates for his success, they are equally quick to give him credit for the fact that the Wings lead the league with 67 points at the break.
"For Howard, it's very well-deserved," Henrik Zetterberg said. "He's been playing unbelievable for us and a big factor that we are where we are in the standings because he's really winning games for us."
Captain Nick Lidstrom, a veteran of 11 All-Star games, said getting such an honor can only help Howard.
"I think it gives him a ton of confidence," Lidstrom said. "Knowing that people around the league are watching him and knowing that he's playing well. It's been paying off for him, too. I think that's a big confidence boost for him when he's able to make the All-Star team."
The fact that the All-Star Game is in Ottawa this year is the icing on the cake for Howard.
"I can't wait," Howard said before he left. "It's gonna be a lot of fun. Looking forward to it being in my backyard there, growing up in northern New York, it's only about a 45-minute drive so I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends."
Howard wasn't sure how many of his friends were going to make the trip.
"I'm taking care of my immediate family and anyone else is fending for themselves," Howard said. "I've already put in for all the tickets. Whether or not my buddies go up, it's totally on them. I understand if they don't show. It's an expensive ticket."
One of the best parts of the experience is getting to know some of the other players around the league.
"Really excited to meet fellow goalies," Howard said. "Really excited to meet Henrik Lundqvist, Timmy Thomas, Jonathan Quick, all the goalies. I'm looking forward to sitting down and talking to them."
Howard did not have to travel by himself as Pavel Datsyuk was also chosen for the All-Star team.
"He should be there every year," Zetterberg said. "But it's fun for him to go and show his talents."
Wings coach Mike Babcock agreed with Zetterberg.
"He's the best two-way player in hockey, bar none," Babcock said. "That's because of his commitment without the puck and his faceoffs and his strength and his battle level and all the intangible things he has beside his skill set and his vision. Those things are God-gifted, the other stuff he's earned."
Datsyuk has appeared in two other All-Star Games, in 2004 and 2008. He was chosen for the 2009 All-Star Game but he and Lidstrom withdrew because of injury.
The league started a new tradition last season in which they named two captains and four assistant captains who select their team in a fantasy draft. Lidstrom was one of the captains last season.
Datsyuk saw Toronto's Phil Kessel win a car last season when he was the last player taken and said that he wanted to be the last player picked this year.
"I want a Lamborghini," Datsyuk joked.
Unfortunately for Datsyuk's car hopes, Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, one of the captains along with Ottawa forward Daniel Alfredsson, chose Datsyuk first overall.
"I think it's pretty obvious that he's an unbelievable player," Chara told NHL.com. "I really admire the way he plays the game, the way he acts on and off the ice. It was my individual goal to get him first, and I was happy that I could have done it."
San Jose's Logan Couture was the last player taken but he did not get a Lamborghini. Instead, he got a 2012 Honda Crosstour 4WD EX-L and a 10,000 donation in his name to the grassroots hockey program of his choice.
Howard was the last goaltender chosen, in round 10, also by Chara.