LAS VEGAS — A surprising and brand-new fastest skater, a classic event gets a throwback pop, some spectacular outdoor events, and a show-stealing trick shot by Trevor Zegras.
Friday’s 2022 NHL All-Star Skills mixed some oldies but goodies with a dash of the new, and did well to keep the mood fun.
Here are seven highlights from the showcase.
Breakaway Challenge returns… and this time it’s scripted
Last seen in 2016, the NHL brought back its goofiest gimmick, the Breakaway Challenge, in which contestants perform their most creative shootout moves and get judged on their originality.
The league worked with the players to dream up fun ways to dress up a deke, and invited a panel of celebrity judges (Jon Hamm, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and more) on the ice to rate the moves in real-time, the way the NBA does with its dunk contest.
This event was like one of the nightclubs Stefon used to describe on Saturday Night Live: It had everything.
Kirill Kaprizov dressing up like Alex Ovechkin doing a “hot stick” celebration. Alex DeBrincat recreating The Hangover with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. A miniature Jack Hughes popping out of a magic box and tossing his stick into the crowd. A glow-in-the-dark marching band. Trailblazer Manon Rheaume coming out of retirement at age 49. And Carrot Top for reasons unexplained. (Because he’s available, I guess.)
Full Vegas! Full cheese! Full fun!
The highlight by a mile was Zegras, who came out in an Average Joes Dodgeball uniform, then dangled something silky and scored blindfolded while having dodgeballs thrown at him by various team mascots.
Creative, smooth, brilliant. And it only took Zegras a couple hours to dream up the idea.
Technically, Zegras did not win the event (local hero Alex Pietrangelo did). But he totally won the event.
“Pretty cool move. I dunno. I’d like to see how blindfolded he really was. He made it look pretty easy. But it was pretty sweet,” Auston Matthews said.
“To me, that was the winner.”
Skills move to melted ice
The most visually spectacular event was no doubt the Fountain Face-off, which was also pre-taped Thursday night at the Bellagio fountains.
Players were boated out to an island and challenged to fire illuminated pucks into a series of targets located on smaller islands as fast as they could.
What the event lacked in thrills it made up for in scenery.
Three-time Olympic medallist Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a guest contestant, had no issue holding her own with the men and received a thunderous ovation inside T-Mobile when her speedy performance aired on the Jumbotron.
Columbus’s Zach Werenski won the title, however.
“Every time I come to Vegas now, I’ll walk by the fountains or drive by them and I’ll have that memory,” Werenski said.
“I obviously won it, so I didn’t do too bad.”
A new speed king is crowned
They say you gotta beat the best to be the best.
So with both Connor McDavid and Dylan Larkin — winners of four of the past five Fastest Skater races — highlighting a loaded field, first-time all-star Jordan Kyrou’s fastest lap was all the more impressive.
“Kyrou did a great job,” acknowledged McDavid, a three-time champ who finished a surprising fourth place. “There’s so many fast skaters in this league, and you saw it firsthand tonight.”
Kyrou whipped around T-Mobile Arena in a time of 13.55 seconds, edging L.A.’s Adrian Kempe and New York’s Chris Kreider. (Kyrou’s winning time was actually the slowest since Michael Grabner’s 14.06 in 2011.)
The key to the 23-year-old’s success?
“I just tried to keep my feet moving,” Kyrou revealed.
It’s that easy kids.
“It still hasn’t clicked in my head that I won,” a humble Kyrou said. “You always gotta believe in yourself a little bit, right? Those are still the fastest guys in the world So just being able to go up against them was really cool.
“Connor’s the fastest player in the world, right? So, I was a little surprised.”
Wait. If McDavid is the fastest and you were faster, aren’t you the fastest?
“I mean, none of us are warm. Connor is still the fastest player in the world, in-game.”
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 5, 2022
Joe Pavelski is good at everything
The NHL shut down the Las Vegas Boulevard — a logistical nightmare — and set up hockey’s version of a blackjack game.
Five players took aim at a deck of 52 gigantic playing cards in an effort to hit 21.
Pavelski went four-for-four, calling and nailing every one of his shots.
His prowess in the game will only further his reputation as the guy who’s excellent at everything he tries (hockey, golf, cards).
That desire to win (or hatred for losing) was instilled early, Pavelski says.
“As a kid you just like playing games. You’re at the baseball diamond in the summer. You’re playing flag football. You’re playing ball hockey. We had pool tables, ping-pong tables, dartboards. Brothers and sisters, Dad, we all [competed],” Pavelski says. “I just liked playing all these little games, I guess. I stayed busy that way.”
And on the rare occasion you didn’t win?
“There were more tears than there probably needed to be at times.”
Foam targets are back, baby
Sometimes analog just sounds better than digital.
The pop, smash and mess of the old-school foam targets in the Accuracy Shooting contest was brought back, replacing the teched-out illuminating corners of recent Skills contest.
Sebastian Aho took the $30,000 prize by snapping all four Styrofoam circles in a tidy 10.9 seconds.
“I used to love the foam targets and seeing them explode,” Pietrangelo said. “We had the same ones in the driveway. So to see them bring that back was really cool.”
Hardest Shot — now with 100 per cent glowing pucks!
The glowing red pucks were a fine update on this classic battle of strength. But even they couldn’t make up for a potential crowd-pleasing moment.
Five-time winner of the event Zdeno Chara had been rumoured to be invited for one last go at the crown despite not being named to the Metropolitan Division’s all-star squad. Sadly, no Chara.
Aside from Golden Knights killer Tom Wilson getting lustily booed throughout his attempts (then cheered when his speedometer reading came up short), the highlight was Tampa Bay bomber Victor Hedman.
Hedman blasted the two hardest pucks, his best topping out at 103.2 miles per hour.
“He rips it pretty quick,” Adam Pelech marvelled.
Said Hedman: “I usually shoot on Vasi after practice as hard as I can, so I knew I had it in me.”
Campbell gets his moment (and some Red Lobster money)
When Toronto’s Jack Campbell learned he’d been invited to his first all-star game, he singled out Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy as the guy he most wanted to meet.
Well, the two Atlantic Division netminders linked up for the longest run in the Save Streak by denying away nine consecutive breakaways.
All-star vet Vasilevskiy’s advice to Campbell before they teamed up in opposite creases?
“Just have fun,” Campbell said. “He was really happy we won, so makes me really happy.”
Matthews: “I really loved watching Soup. I think we hit the jackpot with this guy. He’s just snake eyes in there. It was fun seeing him compete. It’s been a long, long road for him, but to see all his hard work pay off, it’s been pretty incredible.”
So, you’ll make him buy dinner, then?
Matthews: “Yeah, Red Lobster. Crab linguini, bud.”
Campbell: “My treat.”