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NHL.com goes behind the scenes at Skills Competition

by Dan Rosen / Winnipeg Jets

NASHVILLE -- NHL benches are typically sacred areas, reserved for teams; for coaches, players and trainers. Occasionally they'll let a broadcaster on the bench for an interview, but it's normally a place where strategy is discussed, trash talk is expected and conversations are kept private.

None of that was true Saturday at Bridgestone Arena during the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition. The benches were littered with people, from players' kids to reporters from the major networks, to NHL and NHLPA representatives.

It was unique, an experience, and NHL.com got to be a part of it.

Here is a chronological look at some of the best behind the scenes moments of the Skills Competition as seen and heard from the benches:

* Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr stops to chat with Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn at center ice. Jagr and Benn were teammates in Dallas for part of the 2012-13 season. Stars center Tyler Seguin skates over and starts petting Jagr's hair, giving some love to the new mullet.

* Jagr comes off the ice after warmups and notices former NHL player Matthew Barnaby, now representing Sirius XM NHL Radio, standing behind the bench, wearing a bright pink sport jacket. Jagr, who was teammates with Barnaby on the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, looks stunned.

"Holy Barny," Jagr screams, laughing almost uncontrollably at the jacket. "Nothing's changed. Still an idiot."

Barnaby starts cracking up after he and Jagr embrace with a hug. He says he bought the jacket on Monday.

* In the dressing room area after warmups, Benn is talking about the Discover NHL Shootout, when every player had to go for a breakaway. He says he doesn't know what he's going to do. "Gotta go to YouTube to figure it out," Benn says.

* It's just before the competition is set to begin and Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber is asked if he'll use a stick that's comfortable to him or something new for the AMP Energy Hardest Shot competition. He isn't sure, and admits there is pressure.

* Predators forward James Neal is told that he has to compete in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition, the first event. He looks stunned, like his heart just dropped. He's relieved seconds later when he's told he doesn't have to do it, that it was a mistake.

"I think she mixed me up with Jos [Predators defenseman Roman Josi]," Neal says. "Thank God."

* Neal jumps off the bench and goes to the tunnel to meet with country music star Dierks Bentley, who is hanging out there and wearing a Predators jersey.

* Neal asks for a puck from the trainer with no explanation. Soon after, he's on the ice for the Honda NHL Breakaway Challenge, and it becomes apparent why he needed it.

Neal goes in, dekes and shoots over New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider's shoulder. He immediately drops the puck he received from the trainer out of his other hand and shoots it into the net.

"That was a quick one," Neal says, admitted he just thought of the trick.

* Schneider and Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo are seen faux fighting in the net while San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns' 4-year-old son, Jagger, and Sharks captain Joe Pavelski's 5-year-old son, Nathan, are coming in on them during the Breakaway Challenge, guided by their fathers. Luongo pushes Schneider out of the way, but he's out of the net and both boys score to the adoration of the crowd.

Jagger Burns takes the moment in the spotlight to dance in front of the cameras, holding up a picture his dad, Brent, wants to take with him.

Burns and Pavelski say they came up with the idea on Friday, talked about it again Saturday morning, and added Schneider and Luongo to the mix during warmups.

"I didn't see the dance coming," Pavelski says.

"Dancing wasn't part of the plan," Burns adds.

* Neal goes on the ice for the Breakaway Challenge and waves in a new teammate. It's Bentley, who goes in on a 2-on-0 with Neal and scores on a one-timer. He skates down the ice, slides on his knees and celebrates.

"That was the first time I met him," Neal says of Bentley, who is a house league hockey player in Nashville and friends with Weber. "He's close with a couple of the guys, so I threw out a few texts this morning and it was awesome of him to come."

* Duchene uses one hand to score on his second attempt in the Breakaway Challenge and tosses the cowboy hat he was wearing into the stands. It comes back, almost like a boomerang, and lands in the front row, a gift for a young kid sitting there.

Minutes later, Duchene comes back to the bench with the hat and says he got it back from the kid so he could sign it for him. He signs it, skates back over, and gives back the now-valuable souvenir.

* Seguin comes over and starts talking about Weber and the upcoming Hardest Shot competition. He says he tried to flex Weber's stick and he couldn't even bend it a little.

"I put my whole body weight into it and I couldn't do it," Seguin says. "Either it's that stiff, or he's that strong. Or both."

Seguin, who is also in the Hardest Shot competition, is asked about his shot and how hard it is.

"Not that hard," he says, laughing.

* Predators center Mike Ribeiro is spotted hanging out in the hallway outside the dressing room and later in the tunnel leading to the bench.

"My kid is on the bench," Ribeiro says. "He wants me on the bench with him too, but I'm like, 'Not this year.' "

Ribeiro played in the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta.

* A Predators trainer takes out two of Weber's sticks from the back room, giving Weber three sticks for the Hardest Shot competition, which is about to begin.

Weber starts talking about how he's not sure he'll be able to win it because he's stiff from sitting around for two hours. He also won't say what stick he will use.

"I can't reveal my secrets," he says.

* Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad blasts a shot at 93.4 miles per hour and gets booed.

"Don't boo that," Seguin says, stunned.

Seguin shoots 91.2 mph on his first attempt and 95.0 mph on his second.

"Respectable," he says. "That's an NHL player."

"Thank God," Stars coach Lindy Ruff says from behind the bench.

Ruff, though, jokes with Seguin that he was outshot by John Scott (95.9 mph). He makes a motion that he has to start pumping iron.

* Weber uses the stick that's been in his hands the entire time and shoots the puck 105.3 mph on his first attempt. He blasts it 108.1 mph on his second. During an interview with Pierre McGuire of NBCSN, the fans are chanting "One more shot." Weber delivers, shooting it 107.8 mph.

It's revealed soon after that Weber uses a 130 flex stick, which one broadcaster referred to as using a crowbar to shoot because of how stiff it is. That explains Seguin's difficulty in bending it. Weber says he normally uses a 122 flex, which is still stiff compared to other defenseman.

Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers says after the competition that he uses an 85 flex. Upon being told Weber's was 130, McDonagh says, "I better start lifting more."

Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes says he has used a 95 flex for the past two years. Ekblad says he used a 95 flex in the competition, but typically uses an 87 flex. He couldn't imagine using Weber's stick.

"Insane," Ekblad says as he heads off for a shower, the event now over.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer

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