Thoughts on the NHL All Star Game Skills Competition


Saturday night in Columbus a sold out Nationwide Arena witnessed the NHL All Star Game Skills Competition as the prelude to the big game Sunday afternoon.  The event saw “Team Foligno” beat “Team Toews” 25-19 in what turned out to be a solid follow-up on the fantasy draft that took place Friday night.  Sure, the players probably didn’t have as many “liquid refreshments” than they did on Friday night, but overall the All Stars put on a solid show for its fans.

The night started with Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Jonathan Drouin taking home the fastest skater title as he posted a time of 13.103 seconds.  The highlight of the event though was Phil Kessel squaring off against Tyler Seguin to open things up.  It was a nice continued play on last night’s “trade” between the teams as the two will forever be linked in history.  Somehow despite his doughy appearance, Kessel beat Seguin in what would be the night’s biggest upset.

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Up next was the Breakaway Challenge which would be decided by fans on Twitter. Participants from each squad did their best “trick” shots and (in the case of Blue Jacket Ryan Johansen) playing to the home crowd to garner favor.  Whether the player scored turned out to be secondary as Johansen, Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Johnny Gaudreau did their best to give the crowd a show.  Johansen hit the trifecta of creativity, donning an Ohio State football jersey for one attempt, using a Columbus trainer’s son during a second attempt, and going with the immortal “Flying V” on his final attempt.  I can’t even tell you if he scored on any of the attempts, but his creativity was able to hold off a late charge from Voracek (who used Gaudreau as prop) to win the fan vote.

The third event was an oldie but goodie in the Accuracy Challenge. Participants are aiming to hit a target in each corner of the net as quickly as possible.  Patrick Kane ended up the winner by nailing all four targets in just 13.529 seconds.  I think Bobby Ryan is still trying to hit the fourth target.

At this point if you were keeping score at home, it was Team Foligno a lot, Team Toews, not much.

After a break in the action the NHL rolled out its Skills Challenge which included one-timers, slick passing (unless your name was John Tavares), nifty stick-handling, speed, and of course, a goalie scoring.  The teams split the two heats but Team Foligno earned the extra point with the best individual heat time.  It was also special for Marc-Andre Fleury who apparently lived a dream by finally scoring a goal…of course come playoff time Fleury has never been shy about allowing opposing players to live out theirs.

Next up was the grand-daddy of them all (at least in this writer’s eyes), the Hardest Shot Challenge.  I don’t care what anyone tells you: if you’re flipping the channels and this event comes on, you’re watching.  No question.  Unfortunately this year, previous winner Zdeno Chara did not make the game and thus, could not defend his title and his record 108.8 MPH shot.  It appeared that no one was going to challenge Big Z’s record as only Alex Ovechkin was able to crack the 100 MPH barrier amongst the first seven shooters.  However, after missing the net (and thus, not recording a speed) on his first attempt, Shea Weber took out whatever frustration he’s had in life on the puck and blew away the competition with a 108.5 MPH shot.  It wasn’t record-setting, but it sets up a showdown next year between he and Chara that may cause people behind the net to vacate their seats for the moment.

The night concluded with the Shootout Challenge which featured three rounds at two minutes per round that allowed each goalie to face a line of shooters.  To be honest, the NHL was trying to promote the “Go-Pro” cam and too often went to the a “point-of-view” look or other odd view which made the event on television seem choppy.  It also didn’t help that the players were alternating shots so quickly that most times it was difficult to tell if a puck went in.  There was also the “Discover” puck which was worth two points instead of one, but since no one knew what was happening, we were left to rely on the broadcast to pass the message along.  The challenge would be a heck of a lot better if they left it untimed and allowed only one opportunity per player and not rapid fire.

Overall, the event was basically what you would expect from the NHL All Star Skills Competition: a few funny moments, a few cringe-worthy Pierre McGuire interviews, a few “wow” plays, and the fans generally being entertained.  Personally I could do without the Breakaway Challenge and the Skills Challenge, but those events reminded us again that Johnny Gaudreau is really small and that Ryan Getzlaf is a scary-good player (not to mention next president of Hair Club for Men).  Plus for a two and a half hour production, some of the events seemed rushed…if that makes any sense (for the three stars of the night, check this out).

However, the NHL All Star Game and the related activities are another reminder to the fans that many of these players are easy to root for (unless your name is Rick Nash, right Columbus fans?), especially when they let their guard down and open up a bit.  As a fan I always find it entertaining to see how players around the league interact with each other and how many seem to genuinely like each other.

I admit, the Skills Competition isn’t for everyone and goes against the “team” concept that makes hockey such a wonderful sport.  But at least for one night, this old fan didn’t mind a little bit of hot dogging and showcasing the talents of the most gifted athletes on earth.