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Captains revel in opportunity to assign Skills roles

by Dan Rosen / Columbus Blue Jackets


COLUMBUS -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews felt a bit like an executive as he walked into a hotel conference room Saturday morning.

Confronted with a setup with six chairs and a television monitor showing what was essentially a draft board synched to the two laptop computers sitting on the side-by-side folding tables, Toews mustered a quick quip.

"In the war room, eh," he said.

Sort of, yeah.

Toews and his alternate captains, Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Rick Nash of the new York Rangers, sat across from Columbus Blue jackets forward Nick Foligno and his alternate captains, Chicago's Patrick Kane and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, on Saturday morning to select their lineups for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition which will take place Saturday night at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The meeting was delayed because the arrival of Foligno, who lives nearby, was thrown off by downtown traffic caused by the All-Star 5K race on the city's streets.

"Who puts a 5K in downtown," an exasperated Foligno said as he raced into the room.

"They didn't put it there so you could run in it," Toews chirped back. "You could have drove around it."

The laughs continued as the captains went about selecting the players to compete in the respective competitions. Members of the NHL's Hockey Operations Department were on hand to answer any questions about the various rules for each competition, but for the most part the captains and alternates were on their own to figure out where each player would be slotted. It was a sign of how well they know each other.

They talked about right-handed vs. left-handed shots, hands, skating speed, and the various other skills of other players. They weren't exactly executives trying to build a team, but they could have passed for scouts.

"Pretty cool to play GM and coach for a day," Foligno said. "I was laughing at these guys, they knew lefty and righty stuff. I'm like, is this common knowledge, should I know every player in the League like this? It is pretty amazing what guys pick up on on each other."

Team Toews selected forwards Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars, Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators,Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers for the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition. Team Foligno responded with four forwards: Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jiri Sekac of the Montreal Canadiens and Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres.

Team Toews was quick on the selections for the Honda NHL Breakaway Challenge, going with forwards Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues, Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers and Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. Chicago's Corey Crawford was selected as the goalie. Team Foligno went with forwards Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, Ryan Johansen of the Blue Jackets and Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

Team Toews also selected Tarasenko to participate in the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay. They didn't mind making him work harder than some others.

"That's why we took the young guys," Getzlaf said.

Team Toews went with an all-defensemen rotation of Chicago's Brent Seabrook, Ekblad, Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes and the obvious choice of Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators for the Amp NHL Hardest Shot competition. Team Foligno countered with Ovechkin, San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, Tampa Bay lightning forward Steven Stamkos and Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

The Weber-Byfuglien showdown has the potential to be the best of the night.

Getzlaf, Nash and Toews put themselves in the DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting competition along with New York islanders forward John Tavares, Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron and New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias. Foligno and Kane put themselves in that one too, along with Vancouver Canucks forward Radim Vrbata, forward Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators, forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles' forward Anze Kopitar.

That's the one where they stand in place and try to hit the targets. That's the easy one.

"Had to find something," Toews said jokingly.

"Yep, no moving," Foligno said.

Team Toews was already more than halfway finished with its selections when Foligno looked up from his computer and said, "What, are guys already done?"

"Well, some of us came at 9:30, some of us ran a 5K," Getzlaf responded.

Doughty made his first appearance on the draft board in the Skills Challenge Relay. Team Foligno selected Stamkos for the one-timer part of the Skills Challenge Relay.

"You're going to use Stammer, for one-timers," Getzlaf said.

"Yeah, terrible one-timer, we're giving that one to you guys," Foligno responded, obviously joking.

As Team Foligno was still working on the Skills Challenge Relay participants, Team Toews had moved on to the Discover NHL Shootout competition. Getzlaf was not about to let Toews get away with sitting this one out, particularly because there are spots where they can get two points for a goal instead of one.

"Put yourself in there," Getzlaf said. "You're shooting twice with the money pucks."

Toews will only go once, but Seguin, Nash and Tavares are going twice for Team Toews.

Kane, Giroux, Stamkos, Kopitar, Johansen and Vrbata were chose as Team Foligno's initial Discover bonus-puck shooters. Foligno is the only player on his team going twice in the shootout competition.

All the goalies will be in the shootout competition.

"That was fun," Foligno said. "I think we've got a pretty good team."

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