OTTAWA – There was a loud creaking sound coming from Scotiabank Place in Ottawa Saturday night. The pessimist will tell you it was the sound of hockey purists turning over in their graves seeing their beloved game reduced to a collection of buskers clowning around on the ice.
The optimist will tell you the creaking sound came from a soldout crowd rocking back and forth in their seats in applause watching the spectacular puck skills and antics performed by the game’s top stars.
The realist can reason the creaking sound came from the bones of Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara, two of the oldest players in the NHL All-Star Game. Despite their advancing years, Alfredsson and Chara rocked slap shots well north of 100 miles-per-hour in the hardest shot competition. Chara clearly is getting better with age with measured shots of 106.2, 106.9, 107 and 108.8 mph, all better than last year’s All-Star Game record of 105.9 mph.
Alfredsson had shots of 101.1 and 101.3 mph and has no business considering retiring from the game anytime soon. He has way too much to offer, the way Teemu Selanne keeps raising the bar into his 40s in Anaheim. The way the Senators have rallied from last-place predictions this season, let’s hope Alfredsson can keep pushing off Father Time.
Alfredsson, who captained his all-stars to a victory over Team Chara, also showed deft moves in the elimination shootout, beating Tim Thomas with a slick move to his forehand.
The hardest shot event really is the bread and butter of the All-Star Game skills competition. It’s what the slam-dunk event is to the NBA skills celebration, or the bull-riding competition in rodeo. It’s what the players like talking about amongst themselves, before and after the evening.
Let’s face it, the players really do embrace the skills competition now. They’re getting it. Entertain the fans with the crafty moves they practise in practice. This is really what all-star weekend is about. The game Sunday will be anything but true hockey and there’s nothing we can do about it. So why not allow the stars to have a good time showing off their well-earned skills?
Anaheim’s Corey Perry stole the show in the breakaway challenge, getting the loudest cheers from the Ottawa fans. The reigning Hart Trophy winner tossed aside his gloves and stick, then pulled out a mini-stick from inside his hockey pants. He then skated in hunched over and deked an accommodating St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott. It was a nice nod to the All-Star Game’s youth hockey theme.
In one of his other attempts, Perry showed deft touch controlling the puck on the blade of his stick and waving it lacrosse style as he skated in on Elliott. He scored, but it really wasn’t about scoring.
The winner of the event, however, was determined by an open ballot from text messages – can’t imagine the purists liking that either – and Chicago’s Patrick Kane got the nod. His props included a Superman cape and Clark Kent glasses. Sure, a little ripoff from Dwight Howard, but the fans sure liked it. He purposely fell to the ice on one attempt, gloved the puck across his body and angling it past a friendly Elliott with his flat-on-the-ice stick. In another attempt, Kane took a slap shot from 40 feet and the exploding puck burst into three pieces, none of which entered the net.
If it’s fun you want, Montreal’s Carey Price was having a ton of it in the Team Alfredsson net. He figured if the skaters can be goofy and entertaining, why should the goalies not play the part of the Washington Generals? Price played the crease like a five-year-old kid playing soccer for the first time – paying attention to anything but the task at hand.
Facing John Tavares, Price put his glove hand over his eyes, letting fate fly to the wind. Turns out Tavares lost the puck while trying to juggle it and shot wide. Facing another breakaway, Price was flopping around in the crease like a grounded flounder. He also jumped up and down waving this arms facing Sean Couturier, stood backwards in his crease (and still made a save) and did his best Tim Tebow pose.
Price, in my book, was the winner. He was goofy, he had fun and he made us all laugh. Except for the hockey purists. They either weren’t watching or they were indeed turning over in their graves.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.