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Nerves of steel yield accuracy success

by Phil Coffey
Sure, it looks easy. The four targets, bull's eyes at the four corners of the net, look big enough to reach out and touch.

Now, try nailing all four targets in a row with a big crowd cheering or groaning with every shot and a group of your peers watching your every move.

Easy? Not so much, and that pretty much describes the McDonald's NHL Accuracy Shooting competition that will take place on Saturday, Jan. 24 as part of the Honda/NHL SuperSkills competition at Montreal's Bell Centre.

This competition is a test of nerve, as well as accuracy. The pressure builds with each shot, a wave of elation building as each puck smashes the target or a drop of sweat sliding down your spine as the puck misses the mark.

It takes nerves of steel to win this one, and those who have triumphed have set the standard very high indeed.

Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque won the event outright five times and shared the honors an additional three times.

Bourque electrified the 1992 competition in Philadelphia by taking out four targets on four shots. He reprised that performance the next season in Montreal.

In the 1996 competition in Boston, the Rangers' Mark Messier also took out all four targets on four shots. In 2004 at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota, Jeremy Roenick, then with the Flyers, went 4-for-4 to become the only other player to be perfect in the competition.

Toronto's Tomas Kaberle won the 2008 competition in Atlanta, taking out the four targets in five shots.

"I knew about Bourque," Kaberle said of the record. "I didn't know about Messier or the other guy (Roenick). It's nice to be in the book."

What was the secret to his success?

"You have to try to make it like it's a game situation," Kaberle said. "If you try to lob them, you're going to miss. You have to get the puck flat on the ice and then you can let it go."

Kaberle said he had a definite method to his attack on the targets.

"I went left-right-left-right -- top first and bottom after that," he said.

A plan is good since it all looks so tantalizingly easy in the calm before the mayhem.

The four targets, each 15 inches in diameter, will be attached to the posts with one in each corner of the net. The shooter stands 25 feet from the goal line and will receive passes from players stationed to the right and left of the goal posts.

The shooter has a maximum of 18 seconds to shoot up to eight pucks. If any part of the puck hits a target that shot is considered a hit. Multiple hits on the same target will not increase the shooter's score. Passes the shooter can't handle are also considered attempts.

The final round is a head-to-head competition, and the participants will be determined by who hits the most targets in the fewest shots from each team. If two shooters on one team are tied, than the captain will select his shooter for this round.

The shooter now has a maximum of nine seconds to shoot up to four pucks at the targets. If they wind up tied, they will go to overtime and attempt to hit one target in three seconds. If they're still tied after three overtimes the event will end in a tie.

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