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Players enjoy time with family, fans at Skills Challenge

Okposo's son steals the show at 2nd-annual event

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

For all the elite talent on display inside KeyBank Center on Sunday, it was a 5-year-old who stole the show.

Kyle Okposo's son, Odin, joined the Sabres players on the ice for the second annual Skills Challenge presented by New Era and quickly became a fan favorite. He scored a couple goals of on Linus Ullmark and hoisted the trophy with his dad after Okposo's Team Campbell won the event. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: That's a wrap on this year's Skills Challenge!Team Campbell takes the W. 🏆#Sabres50

"It was pretty cool," Okposo said. "He doesn't really understand that a ton of people are watching him and whatever, but he had the time of his life. Yeah, a pretty special day for me."

In a way, the fun for the Okposo family encapsulated what the Skills Challenge has been about since making its debut last season. It's a time for players to take a break from the grind of an 82-game schedule and interact with fans and each other in a loose atmosphere.  

This year's edition saw Ullmark try his hand at the hardest shot competition and Rasmus Asplund take a shootout attempt with a mini stick. Players dressed in commemorative orange and white jerseys replicating those worn during the 1978 NHL All-Star Game in Buffalo, which will be available for auction beginning tomorrow.

"It's just nice, I think, for the fans to kind of see us just more candid and that's just kind of how we are. We just joke around," Okposo said. "I think it was pretty special for the fans to get a glimpse into that. The kids just looked like they had a ton of fun in the stands just cheering us on. It was just a really special day."

The event comes at a welcome time for the Sabres, who have four days between games for the first time since returning from Sweden in mid-November. They have a full day off Monday, then two days of practice in preparation for their game in St. Louis on Thursday. 

"This is nice," forward Conor Sheary said. "I mean, the guys with kids can bring their families down, that's kind of fun. We can kind of just relax. We've had a long stretch of games here where we haven't had much of a break and now we've got four days here between games, which we're going to use to our advantage. This was just a good way for us to interact with our fans and have a good day."

Here's a recap of the day's events. 


Puck Control Relay presented by BlueCross BlueShield

This event featured a relay race with three players from each team, followed by a one-on-one race between Sam Reinhart and Marcus Johansson. 

Team Wales' trio of Asplund, Jimmy Vesey, and Rasmus Dahlin won the team relay against Sheary, Johan Larsson, and Henri Jokiharju. Johansson won the one-on-one race for Team Campbell.

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: MoJo wins this round of puck control 👍#Sabres50


Accuracy Showdown presented by KeyBank 

Sheary stole the show in this event, which saw four shooters from each team attempt to hit four targets in as few attempts as possible. Sheary went a perfect 4-for-4 for Team Campbell. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: .@csheary13 just dominated the accuracy challenge 🤭

Sheary said it was his first time ever competing in a target shooting event. 

"We didn't get much practice," he said. "I was a little nervous, I think a shot one or two times before that. But I guess it just worked out. The targets were pretty big, so it made it a little easier."


Hardest Shot Competition presented by Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort

It took an extra round, but Rasmus Ristolainen defended his title after winning with a speed of 107.5 mph last year. He had stiff competition this time in fellow defenseman Colin Miller, who set an AHL Skills Competition record with a 105.5 mph shot in 2015. 

When Miller took his turn, Ristolainen had the speed to beat at 102.5 mph. After breaking his stick on a first attempt, Miller matched Ristolainen's speed exactly to set up a sudden death shootout. This time, Ristolainen hit 105.0 to win the event. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: .@Colin6Miller giving Risto a run for his money out here...

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: The master once again dominating the hardest shot competition. 👀@rasmrist55

"I think he used a different stick," Miller said. "I think he was cheating a little, went with a little more flex. I used my regular one. No, he's got a heavy shot. I don't think either of us were too warm though. It was fun."


One-timer Showdown Presented by LECOM

Players were challenged to score one-timers from various bad-angle shooting positions, from the outside hash marks to along the goal line. Scott Wilson had the winning total with seven, one ahead of Miller.

"That was a sharp angle, one that I'm not used to but yeah, it went OK," Miller said.


Power Play Challenge presented by Roswell Park 

Groups of three were tasked with scoring as many goals as goals as possible on odd-man rushes within a 30-second time frame. This one belonged to the goaltenders, with no trio scoring more than once. 


Shootout Challenge presented by New Era

Other than the goals scored by Odin Okposo, these ones from Jimmy Vesey and Rasmus Dahlin really stood out. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Gettin' fancy out here, eh @rasmusdahlin00? 👏

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Waiting for the day @19Vesey uses this in a game 😂

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