Predators' All-Stars enjoy hometown crowd

Saturday, 01.30.2016 / 10:59 PM
Robby Stanley  - Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- Nashville Predators defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi, goalie Pekka Rinne and forward James Neal got to experience the 2016 Honda NHL Skills Competition in front of a raucous home crowd at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday.

It erupted with cheers as the Predators were announced in introductions before the start of the competition, and the fans kept that energy going throughout the night.

"It was awesome," Josi said. "It was really loud. It was awesome. I thought the crowd was great. Through the whole skills, they were loud. It was pretty cool when they announced our names."

Josi participated in the Bridgestone Fastest Skater competition and went up against the eventual winner, Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin, in the first heat. Josi finished with a time of 13.527 seconds, compared to Larkin's 12.894.

"We were sitting around for a while before the [competition] and didn't really warm up," Josi said. "I was definitely a little nervous. [Larkin] kind of smoked me."

Neal participated in the Honda NHL Breakaway Challenge and had two creative moves. In his first attempt, Neal distracted New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider by lofting a puck over the net, then pulled a second puck out of his sleeve and scored a goal.

For his second attempt, Neal was accompanied by country music singer Dierks Bentley, who was able to convert a pass from Neal past Schneider and Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo.

"The second one I definitely had a lot of help, so thanks to Dierks for coming in and doing that," Neal said. "It was pretty cool to pass the puck back and forth with him and see him bury it. He said he was pretty nervous for coming out on the ice, but it was awesome. Being here in Nashville and having him do that, it was great."

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the AMP Energy NHL Hardest Shot competition. Weber won the competition for the second consecutive year with a shot clocked at 108.1 miles per hour.

"It's definitely special," Weber said. "The whole weekend has been great, obviously being in front of our fans. I think I've been here 10 years now, and I've seen hockey grow so much in this city. Just to experience the passion and energy that had tonight and leading up to [Sunday], it's been awesome."

Rinne experienced the skills competition for the first time and said being in Nashville made for a unique night.

"The whole experience," Rinne said. "Personally, my first All-Star Game. Last year I didn't go, so just a great experience, first time being at the skills. Being in Nashville, that's something very special for me."

Nashville is receiving great reviews from players and fans alike for the job it has done with hosting All-Star Weekend thus far. That doesn't come as any surprise to Weber, who has experienced Nashville grow dramatically as a hockey market since he was drafted in 2003.

"Everyone is talking very highly of how great it's been so far," Weber said. "Everyone is surprised, the energy and the passion for hockey that our fans have, a lot of people don't know about it until they come down here. Just going on the red carpet today and being around the rink listening to them, I think everyone realizes how much it means to play hockey here."

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