MONTREAL – Stop the presses.
More accurately, call back The Hockey News People of Power and Influence issues. We’re making a change. Ovie, you’re now No. 1.
Anyone who can put on a show like Alex Ovechkin did Saturday night at the NHL SuperSkills competition deserves top billing. Nothing wrong with being No. 2 for now on Sidney Crosby.
In case you missed it, Ovechkin was his typical endearing self prior to the breakaway challenge, which is the NHL’s equivalent to the NBA’s slam-dunk competition. When it was his turn to perform stunts, he asked the audience for more cowbell. The noise came immediately.
Then after a couple of muffed breakaway attempts on a local junior goalie, Ovie put to bed the myth he and countryman Evgeni Malkin have a deep and bitter feud.
Ovechkin skated over to a smiling Malkin, who pulled out a Tilley hat and sunglasses. With the clock ticking, Ovie put on the gear while Malkin cleaned the glasses and squirted Gatorade in his new buddy’s mouth. Who knew the two rivals were in cahoots? Was this golden moment a temporary truce or were the two of them faking the feud all along?
Decked out in sunglasses and hat, Ovechkin grabbed a second stick, passed the puck back and forth a few times, tossed the stick away like a strikeout victim, then went in and scored on the rebound.
Any player with that much skill and charisma deserves to be the most powerful and influential person in the game.
The YoungStars Game featuring the rookies against the sophomores started out promising, but seemed to drag on longer than a New York Islanders losing streak.
The biggest complaint last year was the format led to too much passing and not enough finishing. The players this year clearly got the memo to execute the intent of an offensive play, that being to shoot the puck.
Led by Blake Wheeler’s four goals, the rookies beat the sophomores 9-5, but the 3-on-3 action got old by the second period, then downright stale by the third. Even the fans in the crowd grew restless. And the periods were just six minutes of non-stop play.
Cut it off at two six-minute halves next year guys.
Former The Hockey News senior writer Mark Brender was the happiest guy in the press box after Boston Zdeno Chara won the hardest shot competition with an All-Star Game record blast of 105.4 mph, besting Al Iafrate’s previous mark of 105.2.
Brender is now with the humanitarian organization Right to Play and helps with the fund-raising and spread-the-message awareness. Chara and Brender were part of a group of five that attempted to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania last summer to raise proceeds for underprivileged children.
Chara has been a big supporter of Right to Play for a couple of years and pledged to forward his hardest shot prize money of $24,000.
Each of the six participants (Chara, Mark Streit, Shea Weber, Mike Komisarek, Vincent Lecavalier and Sheldon Souray) put up $1,000 a piece, the teams of those players each put up $1,000 and the NHL and NHLPA each matched that with $6,000.
After Shea Weber registered a seemingly unbeatable 103.4 mph blast, Chara stepped up and hit 103.3, then 105.4
Great idea guys.
The loudest ovation of the player introduction and likely the entire night went to Vincent Lecavalier. Not surprisingly, the vocal fans at the Bell Centre wanted to make sure the Tampa Bay Lightning star knew he would be welcome if the much-discussed trade to the Canadiens happens.
Lecavalier, however, played it coy, not offering much more than a nod. Even with the cameras focused on him for several long seconds, Vinny didn’t really respond to the cheers. I call that a classy show of respect to his current organization.
The best matchup in the elimination shootout featured Montreal’s Alex Kovalev on Boston goalie Tim Thomas.
Prior to the event, the four all-star goalies, Thomas, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Henrik Lundqvist and Niklas Backstrom drew at random the names of shooters they were to face, then were allowed to make trades to suit their needs.
The only trade to occur involved Thomas trading away to right to face Ilya Kovalchuk in order to get rival Kovalev on his docket.
Kovalev beat Thomas on the first attempt, but the goalie stopped him with a pad save on the second shootout.
Phoenix’s Shane Doan won the event and picked up the trophy amid a smattering of boos in the Bell Centre. Some fans clearly remember the accusation made against Doan involving a French Canadian official and a racial slur a few years back. Doan, a classy and well-respected player, vehemently denied making the slur and has gone to great lengths to protect his name.
The best part of the skills competition evening was seeing the natural smiles and reaction on the faces of the players as they interacted on the ice. Even some players known for their poker faces loosened up and that above all else is appealing to the fans.
Witness a beaming Evgeni Malkin after winning the shooting accuracy event. He went to sign the sweater of a fan in the first row and within a minute a dozen other fans were throwing their jerseys and hats over the glass to a laughing Malkin.
Members of the THN team will be filing reports from Montreal throughout the ASG weekend.