February 26, 2006
(TORONTO) -- The competitive juices were flowing between young and old at the sixth annual Bell Toronto Maple Leafs Skills Competition where the young talent on the Leafs this year showed up their veteran teammates.
The fastest skater was rookie Kyle Wellwood, fellow rookie Alex Steen won the shooting accuracy contest, and sophomore Matt Stajan won the puck control race.
|Kyle Wellwood put on a show during the skills competition |
"The guys were teasing me, thinking that I wasn't going to win," said Wellwood. "But I took the turns well and ended up beating them."
There was a lot of ribbing going on at ice level, Matt Stajan having beat out veteran Darcy Tucker in the puck control race told the crowd that it was his "young legs" that carried him to a victory.
But these youngsters weren't the only ones strutting their stuff in front of almost 18,000 people at Air Canada Centre. The skills challenge also featured a group of nine and ten year old kids that placed first in their age and gender categories after months of testing across Ontario as part of the Bell Skills First Challenge.
The top 100 kids competed on Air Canada Centre ice earlier in the morning to win the four spaces in the afternoon competition with the Leafs. Jordan McDonell won in the best female skater category, Luke Shiplo was best male skater, Camille Leonard was the best female goalie and Darren Huck was best male goalie.
The kids weren't out of place in the competition. Luke Shiplo beat several of the Leafs in the shooting accuracy contest hitting all four targets. Only Alex Steen bettered him using only 5 shots to hit all the targets. Shiplo was dubbed "Cool Hand Luke."
"I remember when I grew up it was an unbelievable feeling being around guys on the Jets team," said Steen. "It's nice to give back a little and it's fun."
Many of the players were impressed with the kids' skills and took the time to give them bits of advice and pats on the back after a job well done.
"The skill level is incredible," said Eric Lindros, a Toronto native. "We never had an opportunity to go to Maple Leaf Gardens to do anything like this. I think it's a real thrill for everyone. I know I would have loved to have an opportunity to do something like this."
The competition though fun was also a tight race to the very end. Team White edged out Team Blue with a final goal scored by Wellwood in the breakaway challenge. Many players protested some of the scoring throughout the event but with no video replay had to settle the score on the ice.
Other notables in the competition were: Chad Kilger, hardest shot (103.1 mph), Jason Allison hardest wrist shot (72.8 mph), Clarke Wilm hardest backhand shot (50.6 mph), and Ed Belfour beat out his son Dayn, (subbing in goal for Olympic Gold medalist Mikael Tellqvist) in the power play challenge allowing only three goals.
The afternoon ended with the presentation of the trophy - a statue of Elvis Presley's head, accepted on behalf of the White team by Jeff O'Neill who some say resembles Elvis, just another example of the fun atmosphere at the event.
"It's a memory I'll never forget," said Jaimie McDonell, one of last year's winners and sister of Jordan, a winner this year. "It's amazing. It's hard to say what my feelings are. They're so cool, it's like I'm part of them and that's a really cool feeling."
The fun on the ice between the kids and players translated to the crowd which energized the competitors. One of the biggest cheers of the afternoon went to Darcy Tucker when he tried to score by flipping the puck onto his stick and spinning before shooting from mid air. He was stopped, but the crowd loved him for trying.
Lindros summed things up well by saying that though hockey skills are important to have as a player "the biggest skill might be to have fun and to enjoy every moment that you're on the ice."
It wasn't tough for everyone on the ice to enjoy themselves on this afternoon and more than $200,000 in proceeds from the event was raised for the Leafs Fund and the NHLPA Goals and Dream Fund.