There will be a new event as part of the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills competition presented by New Amsterdam Vodka when the festivities take place at Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) and it's sure to be one that will have players and fans talking for a long time.
The Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars challenge will involve 10 players who will be on an elevated platform behind the goal approximately 30 feet above the ice, shooting pucks at a variety of targets on the ice, with each holding a different point value. Each player will take seven shots, one at a time, and earn points.
So where did the idea for this new event come from?
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"I think the inspiration came from a few places," said Steve Mayer, NHL executive vice president and chief content officer, events and entertainment, programming and content development. "Watching the stunts, such as 'Dude Perfect,' and when [centers] Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin [of the Pittsburgh Penguins] went to the catwalk of their arena [PPG Paints Arena] and shot a video that had them shooting pucks from there into nets on the ice. It came out last year and went pretty viral, but it caught my eye as being super-unique and I thought, 'What if we brought our players into the stands to do this?'"
As far as the scoring system, pucks that don't hit a target will get no points; pucks that bounce, deflect or ricochet onto a target will be counted for the highest scoring value they hit; a puck that hits the center and bounces will be scored the point value of the center; a puck that hits the base of the target will not be awarded any points. Players are allowed to hit the same target more than once, and all scoring will be decided by on-ice officials. If there is a tie at the end of the event, the players who are tied will shoot three pucks each in a sudden death "score-off."
"I think one of the things we've learned from doing skills over the years is the best events are the ones our players like doing, because that's when you get to see them relaxed, having fun, showing off their personalities," said Patrick Burke, senior director of NHL player safety. "The day we went to St. Louis to test it, there was a line of people six deep waiting to try it and then every single person who went up and tried it immediately went, 'I'm doing that again,' So it's something we think will add an element of fun for the players doing it, which will hopefully translate to a really entertaining event for the fans and the TV audience watching."
The 10 players who will participate will be chosen closer to the event, but it likely won't be hard to find players who want to be a part of it.
"We know who we want to put in it, but we haven't started reaching out to them yet," Burke said. "My guess is that every player who sees it is going to ask why they weren't selected to be in it and start lobbying for it if we end up making this a yearly event."
Several former players, including George Parros (NHL senior vice president of player safety), Stephane Quintal (NHL senior vice president of player safety and special projects) and Mathieu Schneider (NHL Players' Association) were on hand to test out the event.
"We wanted to get players, or those removed from the NHL by a few years, to test it in St. Louis and we felt like the test went well," Mayer said. "We've tweaked it some, but I think we are ready to go with what will be a pretty cool looking event."
Though it may seem the event involves more luck than skill, Parros said that isn't the case.
"Shooting pucks from the mezzanine level is not something that players can do on a regular basis, if ever at all," Parros said. "So it will be a real challenge for the players to get dialed in with only seven pucks. The targets will be spaced far enough apart that you will know which one they are aiming for, luck will have little to do with it. Based on our run-through, I'm confident this event will be both a thrill and a challenge for our all-stars while entertaining for our fans."
After figuring out the logistics, the next step was to make sure it could be done in a safe environment, occurring inside a sold-out arena. Special protective netting will be installed at Enterprise Center for the event.
"In terms of it being a safe event, the guys are going to be shooting straight on onto the ice and the targets are structured in a way that there really shouldn't be pucks flying everywhere," Burke said. "They are going to be bright orange pucks and they're going to happen on the whistle so everyone in the building will be looking at the platform watching the players. It's a safe event. There's no concern on our end."
The players involved will be next to each other on the platform for the duration of the event, so there's a good chance for some interaction between them.
"Hopefully there's some opportunity for some good banter up there," Burke said. "When they're all up there standing around watching guys take shots, hopefully the guys will have fun with it.
"We're anticipating good energy levels, good excitement. We're not going to have to be begging guys to participate because I really do genuinely believe it's going to be a lot of fun for them being up there and firing pucks down on the ice."
The Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars challenge could be a staple at future All-Star Games, but Mayer said that will be determined after feedback following the inaugural event.
"We were able to figure out how to do it safely and now we're about to launch something brand new," Mayer said. "We tweak our events to make it more entertaining and better for both the players and our fans. Every year, after we are done, all bets are off. We're always trying to improve events or bring in new ones."
Added Burke: "It's a matter of making sure it's a fun event that players can show off their skill and their personality, and we think this one will be a good one."
The other events at the NHL All-Star Skills competition are the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater, Bud Light NHL Save Streak, Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting, Elite Women's 3-on-3 presented by adidas, Enterprise NHL Hardest Shot, Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars.
The 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game will take place on Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).