NHL takes skills showcase outside, McDavid shines inside
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Sidney Crosby got dunked into a tank of water, Nick Suzuki holed a golf ball with a hockey stick and the NHL made hockey an outdoor sport for its skills showcase in South Florida.
Two new events outside in the sun highlighted the league's annual skills competition at All-Star Weekend, with a handful of players taking turns hitting golf and hockey shots on a par-4 course and others shooting pucks at foam surfboards to dunk opponents with the beach in the background.
Inside the Florida Panthers' home arena Friday night, Connor McDavid reminded fans and the other top players in the world why he leads the NHL in goals and is on pace to score more than 60. McDavid went 8 for 8 in the accuracy shooting competition, which was won by Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders.
One of the biggest stars of the night was Alex Ovechkin's 4-year-old son, Sergei, who joined his father and dad's longtime rival Crosby to score in the breakaway challenge against Hall of Fame goaltender Roberto Luongo, the only player to have his number retired by the Panthers.
Montreal captain Nick Suzuki won the “Pitch ‘n Puck” golf event in nearby Plantation, beating Arizona's Clayton Keller, Dallas' Jason Robertson and Columbus' Johnny Gaudreau by draining a birdie putt with his hockey stick
“It's my first birdie of the year, so I'll take that,” Suzuki said.
Seven months after winning the Stanley Cup together, Colorado's Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen won the “Splash Shot” event that featured plenty of pucks sailing into the ocean off Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Coming off winning the Norris Trophy as top defenseman and the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, Makar joked: “This one just tops it all, I feel like. There’s no debate, this is definitely the one that I was looking forward to.”
Rantanen dunked Crosby, the three-time Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins captain who volunteered to take the plunge into the 5-foot tank and came up with the idea to do the event with good friend and fellow Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native Nathan MacKinnon.
Crosby acknowledged some technical difficulties as part of the event when the foam surfboards wouldn't go down when MacKinnon hit them. That was just one of the trappings of trying something new outside, which the NHL wanted to do after holding an event at the Bellagio's famous fountains last year on the Las Vegas Strip.
"We wanted to do a few things outside to give the Florida feel to it," NHL senior executive VP and chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “We knew coming to Florida we had to be outside, and we knew it’s a risk. Doing an event like this, which as you can imagine is not cheap, you (accept) a little risk. If we’re in a rainy week, this is a disaster. But it was worth the risk, and it’s worth being outside.”
The outside events went better and created more buzz than many of the developments inside. The slow pace of the event, a listless atmosphere in the arena with a crowd lacking energy with plenty of empty seats and some odd moments like Boston's David Pastrnak doing a “Happy Gilmore” impression led to criticism on social media.
Anaheim's Trevor Zegras, one of the cover athletes for the NHL 23 video game who provided the highlight of last year's skills competition by scoring a spinning goal while blindfolded, tweeted a sleeping emoji. Golfer Brad Fritsch posted: “I guess I can delete the recording of @NHL skills competition? I’m hearing things are … not good.”
Canada women's hockey star Sarah Nurse, who shares the cover with Zegras, provided one of the on-ice highlights of the night by scoring on reigning New York Rangers Vezina Trophy-winner Igor Shesterkin, using the move made famous by Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg when he helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Olympics.
Carolina's Andrei Svechnikov won the fastest skater competition, beating Los Angeles forward Kevin Fiala in the final with a lap of 13.69 seconds. The biggest moment of the event wasn't Svechnikov winning but rather Makar wiping out while trying to skate around the net.
Nashville’s Juuse Saros and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck won the new “Tendy Tandem” event in which goaltenders from the same division alternated shooting for the net from the other end of the rink and trying to make saves. Saros scored into the hole cut into the middle of the net, celebrating like he scored a goal in a real game like former Predators teammate Pekka Rinne — the last one to do it in the NHL in January 2020.
Vancouver's Elias Pettersson won the hardest shot competition at 103.2 mph, giving the Canucks a rare victory in a tough season that has included them firing their coach and losing 29 of their first 49 games.
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press