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Skills Competition

St. Louis shoots, scores with big night of All-Star success

New Skills event, old Blues favorites among highlights

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

ST. LOUIS -- It seemed like, well, a longshot.

Trying to be creative and fresh, the NHL debuted a new event at the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills presented by New Amsterdam Vodka at Enterprise Center on Friday.

It was called the Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars, and even for highly skilled professional athletes, it was intimidating.

"It looked hard," Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin said, emphasizing the last word.

Ten players -- eight NHL all-stars and two Elite Women's All-Stars -- stood on a platform about 30 feet above the ice in the stands behind one of the goals. From a patch of synthetic ice, each shot seven orange pucks over the fans at targets on the ice.


[RELATED: NHL All-Star Skills resultsComplete 2020 NHL All-Star Game coverage]


Hitting the fans, who were protected by netting, was the least of their worries.

Whenever you try something new, there is a risk. Whenever you try something new in front of thousands of fans in the stands and many more on television, that risk is amplified.

What if it doesn't work? What if no one hits a target?

The players had the chance to take a few practice shots at the targets Thursday, but that was in an empty arena.

"I don't remember them being that small," Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk said with a laugh.

And this was the finale to the event Friday, the day before the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). The music was playing. The lights were glaring. The fans were cheering and anticipating a show.

"It's pretty nerve-wracking," St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We tried it the other day, but there was no one in the stands and no hype around it. So getting up there, yeah, I was nervous. It was a tough little challenge, but it was fun."

Video: Shooting Stars: Kane needs tiebreaker to edge Marner

The targets sat all over the ice with different point values. Only one seemed to matter, though, the one shaped like the symbol of St. Louis, the Gateway Arch. If the puck went through the center of it at center ice 145 feet away, the shot was worth 10 points.

Everyone went for the Arch.

"Go big or go home," Seguin said.

Almost everyone hit the Arch at least once before Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane won the event in a three-way overtime shootout with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner and O'Reilly.

Alas, Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk, who grew up near the Arch in St. Louis with Matthew, his brother, did not.

"That was real tough," Tkachuk said. "I think my goal was to keep going for all the 10s, and it didn't pay off for me. It's all good. It was such a blast."

Which, of course, was the point.

The skills competition is not the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is an opportunity to relax, have fun and show off skills. It creates moments and memories, and there were plenty of those Friday. 

New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal shocked everyone by defeating Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, the three-time defending champion, in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater.

Video: Fastest Skater: Barzal dethrones McDavid to win title

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, the hero of St. Louis' last-place-to-the-Stanley-Cup 2018-19 season, won the Bud Light NHL Save Streak. One shot he stopped came from Justin Bieber, whom the Blues goalie had challenged on social media. Well, it came from San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl in a Justin Bieber mask.

Fans chanted "U-S-A!" as the United States played Canada in the Elite Women's 3-on-3 presented by adidas, displaying speed, skill and goaltending in a 2-1 victory for Canada.

Blues alumni made cameos. Wayne Gretzky opened the night with a few words, drawing a roar by saying, "This is one of the greatest cities in the world." Bernie Federko passed a few pucks to Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Al MacInnis, the seven-time hardest-shot champion, fired a puck before the Enterprise Hardest Shot, and Brett Hull, fourth in NHL history with 741 goals, fired one during the Shooting Stars.

The Shooting Stars was most memorable.

The players came through the stands to the platform. They literally reached out and touched the fans, slapping them five, and the fans returned the favor. Even Kane, booed all night for playing for the rival Blackhawks, and Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak, booed as one of the Blues' foes in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, received pats on the back. They competed in the stands among the fans.

"I don't know how it looks for everyone else, if it's entertaining," Seguin said. "It was entertaining for us. I enjoyed it, yeah."

At one point Keith Tkachuk stepped up on the platform. He played for the Blues from 2001-10 and raised his sons Matthew and Brady in St. Louis. He took them to two All-Star Games as a player. Now here they were, NHL players themselves, each in his first NHL All-Star Weekend, in front of family and friends in their hometown.

Video: MacInnis, Tkachuk, Hull appear at Skills Competition

What are the odds? Now that was a real longshot.

"I'm so proud of these guys," Keith said.

Matthew pulled off his Flames jersey to reveal a St. Louis Cardinals hockey jersey with the No. 4 for Yadier Molina. The crowd roared. He didn't even need to shoot to hit the Arch.

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