Monday, February 4, 2013

The Future is Bright

All-Stars Skills Not Limited to Hockey
January 30, 2013
Thomas Chace Jr


The biggest thing I took out of this recent weekend of hockey at the AHL All Star Classic in Providence, Rhode Island was the great camaraderie shown for each other by the players, coaches, administration, and legends of the game.  The atmosphere was always upbeat and the players deserve most of the credit, for being generous with their time and delivering in both the Skills Contest and the All-Star Game itself.

Being on the Eastern Conference bench for the 2013 Pepsi AHL All-Star Skills Competition to photograph some of the action was very insightful.  I have spent some significant time with professional hockey players since 2004, and am always encouraged when I see the players spend quality time with one another and smile and laugh despite being bitter rivals during the regular season. This jovial activity never ended throughout the whole AHL All-Star Skills Contest.  They really paid attention to each other yet razzed each other at the same time, the heated rivalries used in jest.  Good kids who get it, who love the game, and show respect for each other as well.  Good stuff.  The Eastern Conference led the contest early on, and had a big lead, but the ice was tilting as the contest went on and the West was gaining. 

At the end it came down to the last play and the last shot.  It was the final event, Event 7, of the H&R Block Breakaway Relay. The final shot would be taken by Providence and Eastern Conference Captain Trent Whitfield, who was the last player to go in the East’s final group of six.  The contest consisted of three rounds with six shooters from each conference having a breakaway opportunity.  36 shooters in total along with 6 goaltenders participated in this event.  The first five All-Stars in Whitfield’s group were all stoned by Charlotte goaltender, Justin Peters.  The West led 12-11; “Whit” could tie it up, and then what would the AHL do in the case of a tie?  The script for the Skills Contest could not have been written any better, with one major exception.  Whitfield let go a great shot that was thwarted by a save or the post.  In the end, the miss probably kept the roof from rising at The Dunkin’ Donuts Center, as the 10,846 fans screamed with enthusiasm.

Event 1 featured the Sher-Wood Puck Control Rally in which player’s race against one another through a series of pylons while in possession of the puck.  The Eastern Conference prevailed in winning 3 of 4 heats for a 3-1 overall lead after the first event.

The 2nd Event was the CCM Fastest Skater contest.  Each conference had three skaters who would race in three separate heats around the ice along the boards and have their time recorded.  Representing the Western Conference were Gabriel Dumont (HAM), Jason Zucker (HOU), and Kevin Porter (RCH).  The Eastern Conference skaters were Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (SPR), Chris Summers (POR), and Tyler Johnson (SYR).  Summers, who donned a great mustache, was the individual winner and the East had a faster team average and now led the contest 5-1.

EA Sports NHL 13 Rapid Fire was Event 3 and is a nightmare for the goaltenders.  Each player shoots five times in a rapid fire succession with pucks pre-placed on ice.  The East got one point for having the most total saves.  The East was backstopped by Robin Lehner (BNG), who stopped 9 of 10 shots in Heat #1.  Curtis McElhinney (SPR) was sharp with 8 saves, and Niklas Svedberg (PRO) made 6 saves for a team total of 23 saves.  The West’s Barry Brust (ABB) stopped just 4 of 10 shots which proved to be too big of a hole for the West to climb back from. Petr Mrzek (GR) made 9 saves and Justin Peters (CHA) made 8 for a good showing in this rapid fire event.  The East gained another point here for a 6-1 lead.

Fan favorite, the CCM Hardest Shot, was next and featured two of the largest boys on the ice.  Brayden McNabb (RCH), who at 6’4”, 205 lbs. was dwarfed by huge 21 year old Jamie Oleksiak (TEX), who stands 6’7”, and 254 lbs.  On this night it was McNabb who bested the other seven contestants with a shot recorded at 101.8 mph.  Oleksiak missed the net on both his shots and was good natured about his plight despite the misses.  East gets a point for highest average speed and West gains a point on McNabb’s hardest shot winner.  East 7 West 2.

Event 5 was the Pepsi Accuracy Shooting contest in which the players are fed pucks in front of the net and try and break targets in the four corners of the net. The player and team with the most hits in the fewest attempts win the contest.  Matt Fraser (TEX) got all four targets in just five shots to win the individual award and a point for his West team.  The West gained another point by nipping the East by one single attempt; the West was 14 for 27 while the East hit 14 targets in 28 attempts.  The West now trailed 7-4 and is rallying.

Another goalie favorite is Event 6, the Pepsi Pass and Score contest.  Three skaters all skate in on the goalie and must each touch the puck before attempting to score.  Each goal counts toward the overall score.  Six heats took place with all 6 AHL All-Star goalies participating.  Only three goals were scored in fifteen attempts.  The West scored twice, the East once, and the West gained another point too now trail 8-6 with the last event coming up.

The H&R Block Breakaway Relay would conclude the dynamic AHL All-Star Skills Contest, with each individual goal counting toward the overall team score.  The West was first on the board with goals by Brayden McNabb (RCH) and Michal Jordan (CHA) that got past netminder Robin Lehner (BNG).  The East took the lead though on goalie Barry Brust (ABB), getting tallies from Chad Kolarik (WBS), Radko Gudas (SYR), and Tyler Toffoli (MCH).  East now leads 11-8 after the first of three rounds.

The 2nd Round began with Matt Fraser (TEX) scoring on goaltender Curtis McElhinney (SPR) and finished with Toronto Captain Ryan Hamilton scoring on the West’s last shot of the round.  The Western Conference goaltenders then began to shut down the Eastern Conference scorers.  Petr Mrazek (GR) stopped all six Eastern shooters to end Round #2 with the overall score now at 11-10.

The 3rd and final round would feature Providence Bruin rookie goaltender Niklas Svedberg stopping the first four shooters before allowing two goals in a row to Mark Arcobello (OKC) and former PBruin, Martin St. Pierre (RFD).  St. Pierre had put the West ahead for the first time all night and now they led 12-11.

You already know how it ended.  An end not soon to be forgotten by any of the people involved, from the players, coaches, fans, media, AHL officials and all the families involved.  After the Skills Contest all the players stayed on the ice and signed autographs for as many fans as they could. It was one of many great gestures by these young men who are the bright stars of the future.  A future that sure looks bright.


No comments:

Post a Comment