BRAMPTON, Ont. — A Brampton Battalion roster with two NHL Entry Draft choices and a dozen more players hoping to get a League call someday -- perhaps as soon as next June -- took a jumpstart on the ultimate dream Wednesday.
That's when NHL great Brendan Shanahan showed up at the Ontario Hockey League junior team's home arena to test out the events for the upcoming 2011 Honda/NHL SuperSkills Competition Jan. 29 in Raleigh. Shanahan and officials from the NHL's Events and Hockey Operations departments put the Battalion players through the paces of six events, including a new skills challenge relay and proposed participation by goalies in both fastest skater and accuracy shooting competitions.
"We learned a lot," said Shanahan, NHL vice president of hockey and business operations. "The Brampton players even held their own draft (mimicking what the NHL players will do during the All-Star weekend]. They got into it."
Brampton captain Stephon Thorne and alternate captain Scott Tanski were the two captains for Wednesday's fun. Their coach, Stan Butler, was a bit skeptical about the drafting strategies of his two players.
"They both went with the friend model than the skill model," said Butler, who clearly enjoyed the break in routine as much as his players. "[The captains] went with who they drive home with and even chose the friends model for events themselves."
Butler ventured the captains who draft for the NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover Jan. 30 would do better to "make decisions on skill rather than camaraderie."
It looked like Butler's analysis was spot-on when Tanski's yellow squad dominated early before Thorne and his OHL black-jersey clad teammates rallied to win two of the last three events.
For his part, Brampton defenseman Spencer Abraham was happy to be the first player to test the passing segment of the new challenge relay in which a player is required to laser passes into tiny nets, even having to lift the pass over an obstacle first. When asked, Abraham offered modest advice for the NHLers who will pull off the relay in Raleigh.
"I guess I would say, pass the puck hard," said Abraham, smiling at the thought of League players heeding his words. "Some guys were trying to slow down the puck [to be more accurate], but I would suggest passing like you are doing it in real game."
Teammate Michael Santini smiled a lot Wednesday too, especially at the thought of Shanahan sending him crisp passes during the shooting segment of the new relay: "It was pretty great [meeting Shanahan]. I grew up watching him."
During debriefings after the skills testing, Shanahan told gathered television executives that he thinks the All-Star goalies will enjoy being part of the shooting accuracy event in which the shooter needs to break four targets in the corners of the goal.
"I asked (New Jersey Devils goalie) Marty Brodeur if he could hit the targets and he thought yes," said Shanahan. "I asked him if we needed the goalies closer to the net to hit the targets and he said no, not necessary. The NHL goalies have said they want to be part of it. We will ask the six goalies who make the game how they feel about it."
Another new wrinkle to the skills testing will be to add goalies to the fastest skater event ("I thought that was cool to watch the big guys; they can move," said Shanahan) and pick two defensemen to perform a skate-off backwards.
"It's still a work in progress," said Shanahan. "We feel like we are ahead of schedule and that we will create something that fans and players will all like."