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NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition – Highlights ;)

January 29, 2012

The skills competition consists of six events: Fastest Skater, Breakaway Challenge, Accuracy Shooting, Skills Challenge Relay, Hardest Shot and the Elimination Shootout. The team intros weren’t terrific, but it was great for the minor hockey players who got to skate with and fist-bump some of their heroes. While I’m sure the Ottawa fans enjoyed another opportunity to boo the trio of Maple Leaf All-Stars, Joffrey Lupul made fun of them by giving props to his own team by tugging at the Maple Leaf crest when he was booed.

The intent of the faster skater event is fairly obvious, but my personal favourite is the goalie heat. The goalies were the most interesting because of both the difficulties involved in a player wearing that amount of gear ‘racing’ around pylons and the entertainment value of watching them lumber toward the finish line after rounding said pylons. Plus, the goalie heat generated one of the best comments of the night, “Hey, did your heart rate get over 80?” – Carey Price to Jimmy Howard, loser of the goalie challenge.

The winner of the Breakaway Challenge is selected by the fans and encourages the participants to innovate and show their personalities. The player is permitted to do just about anything to score.   Past winner Alex Ovechkin, was often the player most likely to add some personal flair to the show, using props while showing off his scoring skills.  With Ovechkin absent, it was left to the remaining All-Stars to show their personality. The initial scoring attempts were weak on innovation and low on success.  While the second and third round produced SuperKane – a cape-wearing Patrick Kane  as well as a Corey Perry mini-stick goal – the second event was stolen by the goalies.

In particular, the winner of the Breakaway Challenge was Carey Price. CBC had Price mic’ed up from the start and while he initially stated ‘he’d let everyone score’ because its the goals everyone wanted to see, it was his comments and antics that really were the crowd pleasers.  The ‘Tebow’ move, the rear-ward facing goalie stop, and the glove over the mask move were pretty funny – at least to the guys not trying to score.

The Accuracy Shooting event used to be owned by the legendary Ray Bourque, and nobody else has been able to match his skills. But this too brought a bit of life to the event, because Jamie Benn, he of the second-last pick – won the event, showing off some pretty sweet mitts.

The Skills Challenge Relay is a combination of one-timers, passing skills, puck control relay, stick handling, and accuracy shooting (again).  This one can be a bit confusing, but all I know is that the mini-nets used in the passing skills event are insane – but I guess that’s why these guys are All-Stars.  Watching Pavel Datsyuk stick-handle around the pylons is definitely showcasing the best the game has to offer in just one word – amazing. Crosby isn’t available and Ovi doesn’t want to show? Meh – Datsyuk is as good as, or better.

Hardest Shot is easily the most anticipated event on the roll after the Breakaway Challenge. People – have a seat.  There are 7 other participants but the only guy we’re here to see is Zdeno Chara.  When I was young, fans were excited to see Al MacInnis and later on it was Al Iafrate, but the Big Z is something to see. The flex in his stick (we couldn’t see it back then) is incredible and given the velocity he generates (record-breaking 108.8 mph) I’m surprised that anyone could possibly think about dropping down to block his shot. Or as his Boston teammate Tyler Seguin commented via Twitter, “…that’s the reason I don’t stand in front of the net right there.”

The excitement of the Hardest Shot event was followed by the pretty much anti-climactic Elimination Shootout. Just as it says, 12 shooters against 3 goalies – you score you stay, miss and you’re out. With Team Chara behind by three points and every shooter having a point available for each goal scored, the outcome was sealed when only 3 of Chara’s 12 shooters moved on to the second round and none of them made it to the third round.

While Team Alfredsson blew away its opposition by a final score of 21 – 12, the real highlight of the night for me was the commentary from the players on both live mic and via Twitter.  One of the things the NHL has been trying to do is increase its presence and selling these young players and their personalities has to be one of the best things they could build on. Carey Price, Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell  – these are the guys we literally want and need to hear more from.

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