Saturday night was, first and foremost, about fun. It always has been.
The 2015 Honda NHL Skills Competition is fun for the fans, and perhaps even more so, fun for the players. Men who battle each other on a nightly basis in a nine month war of attrition for one of sports’ most cherished trophies can, for one weekend, be buddies, goof-balls, the pranksters and wise-guys hockey players are notorious for being when away from the rink.
How else could you explain Ryan Johansen grabbing a youngster from the sidelines to assist him during the Breakaway Challenge, or breaking out the Flying V? Even more so, how could you explain former-Blue Jacket Jakub Voracek grabbing a young Johnny Gaudreau from the sidelines to help with his, which had Nationwide Arena roaring with laughter?
“That was awesome,” said Johansen of Voracek’s spoof of his breakaway move. “I think it was (Nick Foligno) that mentioned I should’ve grabbed (Dustin) Byfuglien and tried to carry him down the rink.”
There’s entertainment value to this exhibition during All-Star weekend, and some showmanship goes a long way. Still, it isn’t just the laughs and antics that draw people to their television screens for this contest. Fans want to laugh, but they still expect to see something truly special.
It’s not an accident that fans still look back in awe of Raymond Bourque’s 4-for-4 performances in accuracy shooting. The Bruins’ Zdeno Chara’s record-breaking 108.8 mph slap shot at the last All-Star weekend was at one time unthinkable, but makes one appreciate even more the 105.2 mph blast that Al Iafrate unleashed with a wooden stick in 1993 and Al MacInnis’ consistent greatness in the event throughout the ‘90s.
Fans love to laugh, but they still hope to be blown away.
“I think that’s what we try to deliver,” said Foligno, whose team topped Team Toews 25-19 in the contest. Foligno flirted with Skills Competition immortality in the Accuracy Shooting competition.
“I was really trying for that 4-for-4, but that darn puck…”
Foligno hit his first three targets before narrowly missing the final marker. He buried it on the following shot for an impressive 4-for-5 finish.
“It’s so exciting because you never know what’s going to happen. That’s what’s so great about the skills competition because every player is so talented and you never know what can go on. That’s what makes it so special.”
Fans in Columbus nearly saw history when Shea Weber stepped to the tee in the Hardest Shot Competition. His blast of 108.5 mph was .3 mph short of the record and made him only the second player ever to break the 108 mark. It brought the entire crowd at Nationwide Arena to its feet.
“That’s what’s great about this competition and I think the fans really enjoyed it,” said Foligno.
The Skills Competition is most importantly about putting on a show for the fans. And despite all the laughs that we welcome with it, that show is not vaudville, it’s not stand-up, and it’s not slap-stick. It remains, above all else, a display of world-class skill and it keeps us on the edge of our seats that we still might, just maybe, witness something we’ve never seen before.
Or at the very least, come within .3 mph and a missed target.