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Skills Competition

Camaraderie, competitiveness between benches

Activity, attitude abound at Skills Competition

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews was in the middle of our interview, in the middle of a sentence in fact, when Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson skated over.

"We've gotta be friends," Karlsson said to Matthews, laughing.

Matthews was stunned. He didn't know what to say, so he laughed.

Senators and Maple Leafs friends? Doesn't seem right, does it?

Not usually, but it's perfectly acceptable this weekend. They're teammates during the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend and are trying to get to know as many other players as possible because even if they're adversaries on the ice, they're all in the same elite fraternity.

"We compete now, so we've got to have some type of relationship," Karlsson said after Matthews skated off to compete in an event.

The camaraderie between players as they mingled together on the ice during the 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday was remarkably evident to me as I watched the event from the benches.

"It's so much fun just to be around the guys, get to know them a little bit, pick their brain a little bit, joke around and have a good time," Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. "Everyone is a part of it."

Video: Accuracy Shooting: McDavid shows off accuracy

Here are some of the highlights of a night spent on the benches, beyond watching players holding their phones, snapping pics and taking videos:

Robbins on the bench

Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins, who played in the 2017 NHL All-Star Celebrity Shootout came onto the Eastern Conference bench prior to the Skills Competition.

If the man who played Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham" and Andy Dufresne in "The Shawshank Redemption" is just standing there, looking around, you take advantage of the moment and ask for an interview.

"The person I was most thrilled to see today was Bobby Orr," Robbins said. "I watched him as a kid. I once saw him kill a penalty by himself. It was ridiculous."

Robbins then told one of his favorite personal hockey stories.

"I got the chance to play in a celebrity game in Boston a few years ago, and I get there early, put my skates on just to go skate around, get out on the ice, and it's me, Bobby Orr and one other person," Robbins said. "He's actually in his skates. I heard he doesn't skate anymore because of his knees. And I got to skate around and pass the puck with Bobby Orr for about 20 minutes. It was like one of those childhood dreams come true. Even though I was a Rangers fan, you hated certain people on the Bruins but you couldn't hate Bobby Orr. He was too skilled, too graceful a player."

Meeting Snoop

Snoop Dogg, who was DJing during player introductions under the pseudonym DJ Snoopadelic, went into each dressing room before the Skills Competition to meet some of the players and take some pictures with them.

"He seems chill," Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said.

"It was unique," Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson said.

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said he is a fan of Snoop Dogg but didn't make himself known to the famous rapper.

"I just hung in the back," Holtby said. "I don't like the spotlight much."

A picture for the ages

I saw Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin sitting next to each other in front of the bench and immediately thought, "Get out your phone dummy and take this picture." So I did, though I had to take it behind them because they were in front of me.

Tweet from @drosennhl: Happening now.

I told Crosby a picture like that could go viral. He laughed, as if he thought nothing of it. So later I asked him, mainly because I was curious, if he ever thinks about things like that when he is in a public setting like this, especially when he's sitting next to the player who is his rival.

"You said something about it, but I didn't think about it," Crosby said. "We were just chatting. We're both enjoying the opportunity to be here. As you get older you realize the opportunities for this become less and less and you really try to soak it all in, interact with as many guys as you can."

Matthews' nerves

A few weeks back I was able to ask Matthews what it would be like to participate in the Skills Competition after watching it every year growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the time he used words such as unbelievable and excited. He called it a "huge honor."

So I asked him how he was feeling before Karlsson jumped into our interview.

"It's awesome," Matthews said. "I didn't know what to expect. I used to watch it all the time, but it's way different being in it. It's a little nerve-wracking."

Not long after he said, that Matthews needed five shots to explode the four targets in the DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting competition. He didn't look too nervous.

"No, that was the good one for me," he said shortly after hitting the targets. "That one felt good."

Carter's struggle

Back over on the Western Conference bench, I watched Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter hit the first two shots he took in the accuracy shooting competition. They were both shots at the high targets.

Carter missed several times as he tried to hit the low targets before finally completing the event. He skated back to the bench, handed his stick to a trainer, who said, "Didn't work for you, eh?"

"No, it worked on the high ones," Carter said. "Can't shoot low. That's what Smitty [Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith] said yesterday. He told me, 'You don't shoot low.'"

Goalies know. Goalies always know.

Speaking of Smith …

I was on the Eastern Conference bench when Smith scored on his shot from the far goal line in the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay. Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was right next to me, so I asked him what he thought of the shot.

"I mean, to even hit the net is pretty impressive, but to go five-hole, wow," Rask said.

Could you do it?

"If I got lucky, yeah," Rask said.

"That was sick, eh," chimed in Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who participated in the Challenge Relay with a shot from the far blue line. "I was just happy I hit the net."

I went over to the Western Conference bench to get Smith's reaction.

"I thought halfway it was going to miss and then it started curling and I'm like, 'That's going to go in,'" he said. "At the end there it just had enough spin on it and she went in. That was a pretty cool moment."

Kesler's proud papa moment

"I saw we were facing [Carey] Price and I thought he had a better shot," Ryan Kesler said after watching his son, 6-year-old Ryker, score five-hole on Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price in the Discover NHL Shootout.

Video: Discover NHL Shootout: Mini Kesler beats Price

Kesler said Ryker asked him if he could get the chance to shoot. He thanked Price for playing along, suggesting he opened his five-hole "accidentally on purpose."

"Just to hear the crowd's reaction, that was pretty special," Kesler said. "As a father it's probably one of the proudest moments I've had."

Ryker, by the way, was asked by NHL Network's Jamie Hersch if he was hoping to meet anybody in particular this weekend.

"The mascots," Ryker said.

Weber's bar was too high

Shea Weber won the Oscar Mayer NHL Hardest Shot competition for the third straight year, except this time he did it by shooting 102.8 mph, by far his slowest shot. He shot 108.1 mph last year in Nashville and 108.5 mph in Columbus two years ago.

"Yeah, so disappointed," Weber said smiling. "You want to keep improving every year. I didn't improve last year. I was close. I was hoping to get there and it just didn't happen this year."

Was it a bad stick?

"I have nothing to blame it on," he said. "I just didn't have it today for whatever reason."

But maybe it was the stick

Weber used a 122 flex stick this year. He used a 130 flex stick last year.

For a reference point, I asked Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman what flex he uses. Hedman is a big guy, after all.

"Same as Shea, 122," Hedman said.

How do you shoot with that?

"I don't," Hedman joked, "but I'm going to try."

I asked him if it has any bend at all.

"It does for me," he said.

I asked him to show me. He put all his weight into it and it barely curved. Marchand came over and heard 122 and was shocked.

"I use a 95," he said.

Hedman, by the way, missed the net on his first shot and shot 94.2 mph on his second.

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