Shea Weber knows how to shoot a hockey puck.
The Nashville Predators captain claimed the title of Hardest Shot at the 2016 NHL All-Star Skills Competition for the second-straight year, topping out at 108.1 MPH, just four-tenths of a MPH shy of his personal best of 108.5 set last season.
“It was a lot of fun,” Weber said. “There were a lot of guys with some big shots this year, and I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely had a lot of fun out there. I could tell the crowd was really into it as well, and that definitely helped.”
“Well, I’ve seen [his shot] a thousand times, so it was nothing new,” Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne quipped. “No, I was just really impressed. It was fun. The crowd went crazy and so did the players.”
Weber’s performance was just one in a slew of memorable moments in Saturday night’s Skills Competition at Bridgestone Arena as part of the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend. Preds All-Stars Pekka Rinne, Roman Josi and James Neal also took part in events throughout the evening, receiving standing ovations in front of their home crowd.
“[The arena] was really loud,” Josi said. “It was awesome. I thought the crowd was great and during the whole Skills Competition, they were loud. It was pretty cool when they announced our names.”
Neal’s performance in the Breakaway Challenge won plenty of style points, as the Preds forward enlisted some help from one of Nashville’s most famous residents. Country music star and hockey fan Dierks Bentley joined Neal in his second attempt in the challenge, finishing off a 2-on-0 with Neal and depositing the puck to the back of the net for the score.
“Thanks to Dierks for coming out and doing that,” Neal said. “It was pretty cool to pass the puck back and forth with him. He said he was pretty nervous for coming out on the ice, but it was pretty awesome. Being in Nashville and having him do that was great.”
Neal’s fellow competitors, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, also won the crowd’s approval with their own unique showing. Subban dressed as Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, complete with a flowing wig, Jofa helmet and tucked-in jersey. Burns, known for his outlandish style and gruff looks, donned a Chewbacca mask for his final breakaway attempt, drawing praise from Neal.
“Yeah I thought Dierks was going to pull through there and give me the win,” Neal laughed. “I think that Subban, that was some funny stuff. I didn’t know he was doing that, so that was hilarious. Then Burns was funny too. So that was good. It’s fun, and you’ve got come up with something weird, so I thought this one was good.”
Josi posted a time of 13.527 seconds in the Fastest Skater competition, while Rinne made a number of stops in the Breakaway Challenge, including one while utilizing an acoustic guitar in classic Nashville fashion.
“The players get kind of creative with it and at that moment… and as a goalie you just try to have fun with it,” Rinne said. “That guitar part, that was a lot of fun for me.”
The Bridgestone Arena crowd was energetic throughout the entire evening, from the red carpet outside to the celebration inside. Weber has also been hearing the praises from his fellow All-Stars on their experiences in Music City.
“Everyone’s talking very highly of it, and how great it’s been so far,” Weber said. “Everyone’s surprised, and I kind of talked about it earlier, the energy and the passion for hockey the fans have. A lot of people don’t know about it until you come down here, just them being around, going around on the red carpet today and being on the rink listening to them, I think everyone realizes how much it means to play hockey down here.”
For the Preds captain, who has spent his entire NHL career in Nashville, the festivities have been everything he had hoped for and more.
“It’s definitely special,” Weber said. “The whole weekend has been great. Being in front of our fans; I think I’ve been here 10 years now and to see hockey grow so much in this city and experience the energy and passion they had here tonight and lead on to tomorrow, it’s been awesome.”