RALEIGH — The stars were out tonight at the RBC Center for the SuperSkills Competition, the final event of the weekend before the All-Star Game tomorrow night. The atmosphere inside the RBC Center was nothing short of electric, as hockey fans packed the arena to see some of the best players in the league gather onto a single sheet of ice.
This year’s SuperSkills Competition pinned Team Staal against Team Lidstrom. The two sides were picked last night in an All-Star fantasy draft in downtown Raleigh.
“It was neat to just be a part of that experience and be able to be standing there picking from the best hockey players in the world,” said Staal. “Not many people get to do that. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Both Staal and Lidstrom were excited to lead their respective teams.
“I’m very honored to be selected captain,” Lidstrom said. “It’s very fun.”
“It’s definitely rewarding,” said Staal. “It’s even more special for me because the game is here in Raleigh.”
The players took part in six events: Fastest Skater Competition, Breakaway Challenge, Accuracy Shooting, Skills Challenge Relay, Hardest Shot, and Elimination Shootout.
The Fastest Skater competition drew a great response from the crowd. Each race came down to the wire, bringing the fans to their feet on multiple occasions. The highlight of the event was the matchup between goaltenders Cam Ward and Tim Thomas. Ward, to the delight of the crowd, claimed the victory thanks to a wipeout on the first lap by his counterpart.
“Nobody else wanted to do it but Tim Thomas,” said Ward.” And then I said, ‘Well, hey, it’s the home crowd, I’ll just have fun with it and see what happens.’ And luckily he had a little bit of a fall in the corner and I could coast right in. So it wasn’t so bad.”
Tied at three wins per team, the final heat matched up Matt Grabner and Taylor Hall. Grabner edged the Edmonton rookie, giving Team Staal the victory in the opening event of the night.
The Breakaway Challenge, an event that comes with lots of anticipation, failed to live up to the excitement of previous years. The hockey equivalent of basketballs’s slam dunk contest, this event saw plenty of failed attempts and very few goals. While the public address announcer stressed that style was more important than goal scoring, most players struggled to execute their moves, leaving fans somewhat underwhelmed. The winner was determined by fan voting, and Ovechkin claimed the victory with 37.6% of the votes. The Russian superstar won the event without scoring a goal.
Daniel Sedin stole the show in the Accuracy Shooting event. After shooting a perfect 4-for-4 in his first series, the Canuck winger went 4-for-5 in the final round, defeating reigning Cup champion Patrick Kane.
The Skills Challenge Relay was the sole event that required teamwork. A brand new competition, this relay involved one-timers, passing, puck handling, and precision shooting. Team Lidstrom won this event by posting the fastest time (2:09).
Arguably the most anticipated event of the night, the hardest shot competition has been dominated by Bruin defenseman Zdeno Chara over the past few seasons. The 6-foot-9 Slovakian had previously won this competition three years in a row, breaking the SuperSkills record with a 105.4 MPH shot two years ago in the last All-Star Game. Chara did not disappoint, breaking his own record with a 105.9 MPH slap shot in the final round, giving Team Staal another win.
“There was no real strategy,” Chara said. “I just go out there and let it rip.”
The final event of the night was the Elimination Shootout. Anaheim Duck Corey Perry was victorious, defeating Martin St. Louis in the final round.
In the end, Team Staal came away with the win, defeating Team Lidstrom by the score of 33-22. While the final outcome bears no significance, the Carolina crowd stood behind their captain’s squad throughout the night, cheering for the team in white any chance they had.
Hurricanes get special treatment from hometown fans
While the sold out crowd was consistently boisterous throughout the night, the fans got especially loud any time a Hurricane was in the spotlight. The crowd remained relatively quiet throughout player introductions until Carolina’s All Stars were announced. The fans rose to their feet and erupted for their hometown heros, and it didn’t go without notice.
“It’s pretty exciting, though, to see how crazy [the fans] get,” Skinner said.
Skinner, who is now the youngest All Star in NHL history, is just trying to take it all in.
“It’s crazy,”said Skinner. “That’s the only word I’ve been using: crazy. You can’t really anticipate something like this so when it comes up you just take it as well you can and just try to roll with it and take it day by day, try to reflect later on.”
Staal also offered his thoughts on the fans during a press conference following tonight’s competition.
“It’s been awesome,” Staal said. “The support that both Cam and I received, the ovation coming onto the ice tonight, wanted to do a full lap as hard as I could. It gives you that type of energy.
“It was a lot of fun I think tomorrow’s going to be a blast for our fans to see the game on showcase with some of the talent out there, and hopefully for the home crowd we can get it done.”