NHL Skills Competition fun for players, fans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cowboy hats instead of helmets. Guitars for goalie sticks. Celebrity impersonators.

Welcome to the NHL Skills Competition, country style.

It was all about having fun Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena, where the NHL’s best plays showcased their skills and their comedy routines to produce lots of laughs.

Whether it was Brent Burns’ son scoring a goal in the breakaway challenge or Pekka Rinne trying to stop shots with a guitar or country music superstar Dierks Bentley teaming with Nashville Predators forward James Neal on a goal, everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves.

Still, nobody wanted to lose, and the Eastern Conference won the overall competition 29-12.

By doing so, it had the option to choose to play the first period or the second period in today’s All-Star Game. The Eastern Conference decided to play each other (Metropolitan vs. Atlantic Division) in the first period, with the Western Conference divisions, Central and Pacific, facing off in the second period.

The winners from the first two periods meet in the third period, with the champion receiving $1 million to be split among the 11 players.

“It’s a weird event,” Neal said of the breakaway challenge. “So you’ve got to come up with something creative.”

Burns, the San Jose Sharks’ defenseman whose 4-year-old son, Jagger, scored a goal after teaming with his dad in the breakaway challenge, said it’s something he’ll never forget.

“He was nervous, but he loved it,” said Burns, who, as a “Star Wars” fan, also put on a Chewbacca mask to score his own goal in the event. “He went bonkers after he scored. I didn’t teach him that dance he did afterward, but it’s a great moment that we’ll have for a lifetime.”

Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who put on a wig to look like Jaromir Jagr and was voted the winner of the breakaway competition by the fans through social media, said he wanted to honor the future Hall of Famer who plays for the Florida Panthers.

“I just came up with it when I got to the rink,” Subban said. “It was a tribute to Jaromir. He’s meant so much to the game.”

Jagr said of Subban’s disguise: “It was pretty funny. I didn’t know he was going to do that.”

While it was a lighthearted evening for the most part, there were some serious moments when players showed some serious skills.

Detroit rookie forward Dylan Larkin won the fastest skater competition in record fashion, completing the circuit in 13.172 seconds, breaking Mike Gartner’s 20-year record of 13.386 seconds.

New York Islanders center John Tavares won the accuracy shooting, hitting all four targets in 12.71 seconds. And Nashville’s Shea Weber won one for his hometown, as the Predators’ defenseman clocked in with the hardest shot at 108.1 mph. It was the second year in a row Weber won the competition.

“It was a lot of fun out there,” Weber said. “The crowd was into it, and I was glad to defend my title at home.”

East goaltenders Roberto Luongo of Florida, Braden Holtby of Washington and Cory Schneider of New Jersey allowed just two goals in three rounds of the Shootout, the final phase of the six-skills competition.

— Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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