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Players showcased personalities at inaugural Skills Challenge

Ristolainen wins hardest shot; Skinner, Thompson impress in shootout

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Carter Hutton met the media with his one-year-old son, Palmer, in his arms. The Buffalo Sabres goaltender had just scored a shootout goal on teammate Linus Ullmark, not long after he took a baseball swing and batted a Rasmus Ristolainen attempt out of midair. 

For everyone at KeyBank Center on Sunday, whether it was the families in the crowd of 9,240 or those of the players on the bench, the inaugural Sabres Skills Challenge was a lighthearted break from the grind of a long season. 

"It was great, a great experience," Hutton said. "I think every time we get to bring [families] down to the arena and be a part of something, I cherish it. 

"I think seeing all the kids today and getting to interact with everybody, it's nice because when you are playing sometimes it's tough to do that. You're kind of in the zone, you don't have that time to be one-on-one with the fans. Today was a better chance."

Video: Beyond Blue and Gold: Skills Challenge

Players were split into two teams, dressed in commemorative blue and white jerseys which are now up for auction at All proceeds from the event, including the jersey auction, will benefit the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. 

The afternoon was as much a showcase of the players' personalities as it was their on-ice abilities. Casey Mittelstadt scored a shootout goal while Zach Bogosian and other teammates tossed pucks at him from the other end of the ice. Jeff Skinner twirled three times before being stopped on an attempt by Ullmark. 

"It's always fun to do events like that in front of kids," Bogosian said. "You know they look forward to it and we look forward to it as well. It was good."

Video: SKILLS: Bogosian

Team White (Ullmark) beat Team Blue (Hutton), 12-10. Stay tuned for a special Beyond Blue and Gold commemorating the event later this week. In the meantime, here are some of the memorable moments: 


Puck Control Relay

C.J. Smith, Johan Larsson and Scott Wilson competed for White against Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick for Blue in a relay obstacle course, with the White team winning by a hair. 

Then came a one-on-one showdown between Mittelstadt (White) and Rasmus Dahlin (Blue), with roommate bragging rights on the line. Mittelstadt got off to the better start, but Dahlin won in a photo finish. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Mittelstadt's comeback attempt but Dahlin prevails. #SkillsChallenge

"It's funny that we had to go against each other," Mittelstadt said. "Obviously living together and stuff, we get competitive enough. It adds something to it, it was pretty funny. I thought I had him and then I think he just decided he was going to turn it on. When he does that, it's kind of unfair."


Hardest Shot Competition

Video: SKILLS: Ristolainen

If Rasmus Ristolainen ever participates in All-Star Weekend, look out. He registered the hardest shot of the afternoon at 107.5 mph. Zdeno Chara holds the All-Star record at 108.8 mph, while Shea Weber is the only other player with a winning score over 107. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: 107.5mph for Risto 🔥🔥🔥Team White wins the @fallsviewcasino Hardest Shot #SkillsChallenge

"I know my shot is pretty hard," he said. "That's all I've got today."

Remi Elie (105.9) Tage Thompson (104), Marco Scandella (103) and Nathan Beaulieu (101) all broke triple digits with their shots. 

Bogosian, meanwhile, started off with two lefty shots that didn't register on the board.

"I think I was shooting so hard it wasn't registering," he said.


Accuracy Showdown

Kyle Okposo was the big winner here, taking down all four targets on just five shots. Mittelstadt (six shots), Rodrigues (seven) and Jason Pominville (eight) also knocked down all four targets within the 18-second time limit. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Kyle Okposo answers for Team Blue 🎯 #SkillsChallenge

Skinner has made a habit of picking corners during his short tenure with the Sabres, so it came as a surprise that he only managed to hit two targets on his turn.

"I guess I'm a five-hole shooter," he said. "There's no target in the middle. I guess I was looking for that one quite a bit."


Power Play Challenge

Players broke up into groups of three and had 30 seconds to score as many 3-on-0 rushes as they could, having to clear the puck after each shot attempt. 

The best trio here was Elie, Ristolainen and Scandella, who scored on all three of their attempts.

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Risto & Scandella in the @roswellpark Power Play Challenge 🚨


Shootout Challenge

Each player had two chances to score in the shootout. Ironically, some of the best attempts were the ones that didn't find their way in. 

Skinner showcased his figure skating background as he continued to make his case for All-Star Weekend. (Have you voted 10 times today?) He spun three times with the puck in midair before sending a shot into Ullmark's chest.

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Wow! He may not have scored, but are you kidding with this, @JeffSkinner!? 😱Vote!! ������

"I didn't [practice], that's why I'm happy I didn't fall," he said. "I just kind of made it up on the spot. I didn't really have anything else, so I had to make something up."

For Hutton's money, the best attempt belonged to Rodrigues, another spin-o-rama style move that wound up whipping its way into the corner. Then again, Hutton didn't have to face this attempt from Tage Thompson:

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Tage Thompson from the ground ������This is all tied up! #SkillsChallenge

Mittelstadt gave kudos to Rodrigues and Thompson for their attempts, but said he plans to outdo his own behind-the-back goal next time he gets the chance.

"I've usually got something good but this year I didn't really have anything," he said. "Behind the back was the best I could do and the second one, Hutts was out so far I couldn't really try anything. I've got to think of something better for next year, for sure."

As for the save of the night, we'll let Hutton decide.

"I don't know. There's so many of them, right?" he said, laughing. "It's kind of a weird thing because we're so structured, we're used to being so serious, so it's fun to just kind of have guys pulling all the stops out. We just tried to have fun with it."

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