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Hockey fans to participate in rink-side chat

During the National Hockey League All-Star game, Internet users will be able to chat with players seated on the bench through a mediator who will air the questions and answers live on television.

Sports fans curious to know what's on the minds of professional athletes during a game may finally get some answers.

During the National Hockey League All-Star game in Toronto on Sunday, Internet users will be able to chat with players seated on the bench through a mediator who will air the questions and answers live on ABC television.

The match between the North American and World All-Star squads is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. PST.

The on-air chat is being supported through a deal between ESPN.com and NHL.com. It marks the first time fans can interact with players online while a game is in progress, said Eric Handler, ESPN spokesman.

"It'll be an experiment," Handler said. "That's why we're doing it during an All-Star game, because it's not the same intensity level as a regular-season game."

As action occurs on the ice, ESPN.com and NHL.com users will be able to send questions about the game to analyst Darren Pang, who will split his time between the benches of both teams.

In a similar setup during a Colorado-Chicago hockey match Jan. 9, sports fans got the answers from players during intermission. The event attracted about 10,000 questions in less than three hours, according to a statement released today.

What's different about Sunday's deal is that players on the bench will answer the questions while the game is in progress, Handler said.