If Saturday’s SuperSkills competition was any indication, Eric Staal
’s first turn as a general manager looks like a good one.
Team Staal, a group of All-Stars drafted by the man himself one night earlier, skated out to a comfortable 33-22 victory over Team Lidstrom in front of a partisan crowd at the RBC Center in the first on-ice event of All-Star weekend in Raleigh. His squad won the first three challenges – the fastest skater, breakaway challenge and shot accuracy events – and never looked back.
“We’re obviously hoping for three-for-three,” said Staal, referring to what he considered a win at the draft and hopes for the main event at Sunday’s All-Star Game.
In reality, the wins and losses won’t matter this weekend, but having hometown Hurricanes Staal, Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner and Jamie McBain on the same team made for an improved atmosphere as the local fans were clearly behind Team Staal more than they might have been for the Eastern Conference under the traditional format.
That was all according to plan.
“It was important that we were on the same team, and it was good to get Skinner and McBain there too so that we knew the crowd was all on one side,” said Ward.
The Hurricanes’ starting goaltender had a hand in one of the earliest and most memorable events of the evening as he went head-to-head with Boston netminder Tim Thomas in a goalies’ edition of the fastest skater event. While the event was not officially put on the schedule until Saturday morning, Ward knew of the possibility that goaltenders could be asked to skate or participate in the accuracy shooting event.
“I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be the skating,” he said.
With the shooting portion a no-go in the end, Ward ended up winning the race due to a costly stumble by Thomas.
“Luckily he had a little bit of a fall in the corner and I was able to coast right in, so it wasn’t so bad,” he said, laughing.
Ward also featured in the night’s final event, the elimination shootout, stopping Team Lidstrom’s Martin St. Louis for the deciding tally as Staal’s Corey Perry took home individual honors. Staal was one of a handful of players to advance to the second round, while Skinner and McBain were denied on their first attempts.
Other than the shootout, the only other event for the Hurricanes’ two rookies was the challenge relay, where Skinner went for accuracy shooting and McBain drew arguably the toughest task with the accuracy passing portion. For his leg, McBain had to send saucer passes over a small barrier and into small nets not much wider than a puck at various points in front of him.
”I was worried about it because it looked tough,” said McBain. “I was watching Dan Boyle do it before me and he said it was tough, but that I should just go out there and have fun”
McBain ended up putting in a fine performance – one better than most of the veterans who attempted it.
Another highlight of the night involved Skinner, although not for anything he did on the ice. Teammate P.K. Subban, a rookie defenseman with the Montreal Canadiens, attempted to curry some favor with the home crowd by taking Skinner’s jersey off his back and wearing it during his attempts in the breakaway challenge, which rewarded creativity rather than goals.
Subban, who later admitted to getting the idea from Boyle, didn’t score on his most ambitious move, but still finished second in fan voting behind Alex Ovechkin, suggesting that the stunt paid off.
“Five seconds before he shot he said I need your jersey,” recalled Skinner. “He put on a good show.”
Although it didn’t involve any member of the Hurricanes, the hardest shot competition was perhaps the most intriguing. Team Lidstrom’s Shea Weber upset reigning champion Zdeno Chara in the first round, only for Chara to break his own record with a 105.9 miles-per-hour blast in the rematch.
While all four members of the Hurricanes’ contingent have a good to very good chance of being in another All-Star Game, Saturday’s event likely presented their only chance to do so in front of their home crowd. The two veterans said that the atmosphere thus far has not disappointed.
“I knew how excited Raleigh was about the All-Star Game, but walking down that red carpet, I didn’t think it would be that big of a buzz,” said Ward.
“(After being introduced) I wanted to do a full lap as hard as I could,” said Staal. “It gives you that kind of energy.”
As for the rookies, the surreal experience surrounding the entire weekend continued.
“Everything and more,” said McBain of his expectations being met. “Especially to have it in Carolina, I don’t think you could ask for anything more.”
“For a guy that looked to these guys and idolized them, even last year, it was a pretty neat experience,” said Skinner.