Columbus Center Stage for All-Star Skills Competition, More

Columbus could really get used to this. The NHL All-Star Weekend host city welcomed in the Commissioner, hosted a Red Carpet gathering, and watched a team of their own, Team Foligno, take the All-Star Skills Competition hardware.

Commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the media at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. (Credit: Alex Busch/Staff)
Commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the media at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. (Credit: Alex Busch/Staff)

Skills Tracker Introduced

Commissioner Gary Bettman met with the media on Saturday to discuss an area of topics, from a new technological experiment, to the announcement of next season’s outdoor game schedule.

In an effort to keep fans happy and engaged, the commish announced that a skills tracking device would be installed in pucks and jerseys for not only Saturday’s Skills Competition, but Sunday’s All-Star Game as well.

“Through our partnership with Sportvision, we are going to take advantage of the All-Star festivities to use technology to take our fans deeper into the game by embedding Sportvision chips into pucks and player jerseys, using our digital platforms and our broadcast partners, NBC, Rogers, and TVA, we will be able to showcase quantitative data, puck and skating speed, puck trajectory, puck location and other key data points behind the skating, stick handling, and shooting abilities of the top players in the game,” said Bettman from a podium set up on the main concourse at Nationwide Arena on Saturday.

Much like the “glow puck” was introduced in the 1996 All-Star Game, the current Skills Tracker is another element to not only keep the active fan engaged, but spark the interest of the casual fan, and potentially a non-fan.

“While we’re excited about doing this test, we’re not exactly sure where this will take us,” added Bettman. “This, if I can coin a phrase, is in the embryonic stages of a work in progress, but ultimately we are hoping to deliver the kind of data that will create insights and tell stories that avid and casual hockey fans will enjoy. In short, we are attempting to embark upon a journey that hopefully will enable us to create and then maintain a digital record of everything in our game and compile a complete digital history.”

Skills Competition Dominance

Despite the focus on entertainment, Team Foligno dominated Team Toews in Saturday’s Skills Competition by a 25-19 margin. The score wasn’t even indicative of how one-sided the affair turned out to be.

“As long as the fans enjoy it, I think the guys enjoyed us going out and putting on a show,” said Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, despite coming out on the losing end. “It changes the pace a little bit.”

Saturday night was just that – a combination of top tier skill and a heavy dose of humor.

The Fast Foligno’s

The NHL All-Star Skills Competition kicked off with the NHL Fastest Skater competition. And while most of these one-on-one races were relatively close, it would mark the first of multiple sweeps for Team Foligno.

  • Phil Kessel def. Seguin
  • Jonathan Drouin def. Mike Hoffman
  • Jiri Sekac def. Aaron Ekblad
  • Zemgus Girgensosons def. Vladimir Tarasenko

Team Foligno’s four skater sweep gave the hometown captain an added bonus point and a comfortable 5-0 lead out of the gate. Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin earned his keep by capturing the event’s fastest time of 13.103 seconds.

‘Ohio State-away’ Challenge

With a lead in hand, Team Foligno added to their lead in the Breakaway Challenge. Each participant was given three attempts – four if you’re Alex Ovechkin – to wow the crowd in hockey’s version of basketball’s slam dunk contest.

As you can imagine, it was one of the night’s most popular events, with the most memorable listed below.

  • Brian Elliott commemorated his All-Star experience by taking a selfie on the event’s first breakaway attempt. The St. Louis netminder captured the moment with Blues teammate Vladimir Tarasenko shooting the puck on a shot that would (obviouisly) go uncontested.
  • Alex Ovechkin’s skills were on display in his first attempt as he juggled the puck before scoring on a disinterested Corey Crawford. The Washington captain would miss in multiple attempts in his next go-round, despite utilizing Tarasenko to feed him toss-ups. Ovechkin’s baseball-like efforts to put the puck in the net left him looking like a whiffing Bugs Bunny, even when he used a goalie stick in his final try.
  • Hometown hero Ryan Johansen captured the fans’ hearts by revealing an Ohio State football jersey before his first attempt. The NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft’s top pick scored on Crawford with his Blue Jackets sweater tied around his hips, wearing Braxton Miller’s #5 jersey. Johansen would use a kid in his next attempt, setting up a five hole goal for the child. The popular creativity followed up with an attack in a Flying V formation from the Mighty Ducks movie, using the rest of the participants from Team Foligno. Although Johansen would miss in his final attempt, he would stand to be the night’s biggest winner.
  • Team Toews’ Jakub Voracek combined straight filthy skill with a little ingenuity of his own. The league’s top scorer dangled and scored top shelf on an in between the legs backhand shot. Voracek was denied in his second attempt, trying to swat the puck out of mid-air, although he did make solid contact in putting the puck on goal. At least he made contact, though. In his final attempt, the Flyers forward controlled Calgary rookie Johnny Gaudreau as a video game-like prop, prompting laughter from the crowd and players alike.
  • It was a tough night for Team Foligno’s Claude Giroux. The Flyers captain was unable to maintain full control of the puck all the way through after catching Steven Stamkos’ lob in the air on his stick. Giroux would experience the same troubles when tapping Chicago’s Patrick Kane for assistance. The Philadelphia center was the only skater clever enough, however, to use two pucks in his final attempt, eventually scoring for the first time in all of his attempts.

The events’ winner was determined by fan voting on Twitter, which ultimately went to Johansen. As if you didn’t see that coming.

Patrick Kane Tops Teammates

The objective of the Accuracy Shooting event was to hit all four targets in each corner of the net in the fastest time possible. And just like the previous events, it was all Team Foligno.

  • In defeating Bobby Ryan’s time of 14.05 seconds, Ryan Getzlaf earned Team Toews their first point of the competition.
  • Nick Foligno set the competition’s initial lowest time at 13.674 seconds in downing Team Toews’ Patrice Bergeron (17.038).
  • Radim Vrbata (22.141) padded Team Foligno’s lead to 8-1, beating John Taveres’ time of 26.122 seconds.
  • Foligno’s All-Star teammate, Patrick Kane, would complete the accuracy demonstration, with his 13.529 seconds standing as the event’s best time. Ironically, he did so in defeating Blackhawks teammate Jonathan Toews, who knocked down all of his markers in 16.307 seconds.

With another bonus point, Team Foligno marched into the Skills Challenge Relay with a 10-1 lead. Call it a victory for competition, though, Kane’s machine gun-like accuracy besting Foligno’s.

Skills Challenge Relay

The Skills Challenge Relay measured the skills of 14 skaters in five categories: One-Timers, Passing, Puck Control, Stick-Handling, and Goalie Goals.

  • The one-timers were mastered by Team Foligno’s Shea Weber, Justin Faulk, and Tyler Seguin. Fed by New Jersey’s Patrik Elias, the trio hammered home all six attempts.
  • Anze Kopitar handled the passing accuracy phase with ease. The Kings alternate captain made the challenge look easy, despite being forced to lift the puck and saucer it into a series of mini nets that resembled indoor putting devises for golf. Ryan Getzlaf was better, though, requiring only five passes to finish the challenge.
  • Team Foligno’s Kevin Shattenkirk gave fans a view of what it’s like to blow through the puck control challenge. The St. Louis defender wore a camera attached to his helmet that left me dizzy.
  • Patrick Kane, Filip Forsberg, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Mike Hoffman were the participants for the stick handling competition. And although Kane’s reputation of being one of the game’s best in this department, Forsberg and Ekman-Larsson were better.
  • The goalie goals was a competition that had to have made Flyers GM and former goalie Ron Hextall envious. Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Roberto Luongo all took their cracks at flinging the puck down the entire surface of the ice. A hazard in the netminder’s zone required the goalies to lift the puck as they flung it toward the opposite net. Jaroslav Halak scored in his first pair of attempts, while  Luongo and Fleury each needed five attempts to bury the puck in the back of the net twice.

Team Foligno’s mark of 1:37.1979 gave them yet another bonus point, as they bested Team Toews’ 2:19.793 time. The route was on as the All-Stars headed into the Hardest Shot challenge with a 12-2 Team Foligno lead.

Weber’s Triple Digits Win Hardest Shot

When Jonathan Toews selected Shea Weber in the All-Star Fantasy Draft, Captain Serious was unapologetic in admitting he did so in hopes of having the player with the hardest shot on his roster. With each participant getting two opportunities, there were plenty of vapor trails left behind.

  • Shea Weber’s 108.5 mph slap shot edged out Alex Ovechkin’s pair of 101.4 mph shots to take the competition, while coming up just shy of matching Zdeno Chara’s all-time record of 108.8 mph.
  • Both of Weber’s attempts did touch triple digits on the radar gun, despite his first attempt of 101.8 mph not counting because it missed the net.
  • Alex Ovechkin was the only other participant who exceeded 100 mph in both attempts, posting an identical 101.4 mph shot in both attempts. It’s a good thing to have on the resume in perusing a job at an amusement park, should the hockey thing not work out.
  • Dustin Byfuglien built off of his first attempt of 95.8 mph with a blast that was recorded at 97.3 mph in his second go-round.

“I was surprised,” Weber said afterwards. “I knew I got it. It’s tough. You never know how hard it is until it registers on the gun. I got pretty much all I could into and you just hope for the best.”

Weber’s Herculean power would give Team Toews a much needed point, cutting Team Foligno’s lead to 15-4.

Moves Like ‘Forsberg’

Despite finding themselves in an 11-point hole heading into the shootout challenge and night’s final event, Team Toews still had a chance to pull off a miraculous comeback.

Three rounds of shootout action, which included select Discover pucks that were worth two points, led to the most competitive action of the night.

  • Mike Hoffman scored on a move that was close to the spin-o-rama, a move that is now banned from NHL shootouts in the regular season.
  • Team Toews’ trade for Tyler Seguin paid off a night later, as the Dallas forward netted a Discover puck for two points.
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson recorded the highest individual point total (3) by going 2-for-2 in the shootout. The second goal for the Arizona defenseman was scored with a Discover puck.
  • John Tavares channeled his inner Peter Forsberg, scoring for Team Toews on the move that’s now called the “Postage Stamp” thanks to Peter Forsberg.
  • Speaking of Forsberg, Nashville’s Filip Forsberg contributed to Team Toews’ 6-2 final round victory.
  • In his All-Star return to Columbus, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash answered the boisterous boos that rained upon him by scoring in both shootout attempts.
  • Jonathan Drouin and Brent Burns left Roberto Luongo stunned, with Burns’ patient move leaving the veteran goaltender sprawled out on the ice.

Although Team Toews was able to draw closer, the 2015 NHL All-Star Skills Competition belonged to Team Foligno. Columbus’ All-Star squad finished the evening with a 25-19 victory.