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NHL 2020 All-Star weekend sees new skills challenges and integration of NWHL

With the week of Jan. 20 came the NHL All-Star week, an opportunity for the league’s best of the best to show off their skills both on an individual level, and at a team level with the best players within their respective divisions. The annual All-Star game, though falling after the skills showdown, is the true heart of the weekend festivities. 

While the All-Star games of most other sports aren’t taken seriously, the best of best stormed the ice on Saturday, Jan. 25, to decide which conference held superiority. The display of talent and youth from both the National and American leagues was enough to make even the Great One smile, as the legend himself Wayne Gretzky stood on the sides as an honorary coach for the festivities of the weekend.

In typical fashion for the league, the Atlantic Division faced off against the Metropolitan Division, while the Pacific Division faced off against the Central Division. 

This weekend is a nightmare for All-Star goaltenders looking to keep their good name as being the stalwarts of the league. However, the rotation throughout the contests hardly gives the tender a chance to settle in; four players suited up and guarded the net for the Metropolitan Division, but none were enough to stop the Atlantic’s best from racking up nine goals. The lack of defense in these games is to be said, as players are simply trying to score the crispest goals they can, so the inflated goal scoring isn’t just due to the infusion of talent. 

Boston Bruins’ right winger David Pastrnak and Ottawa Senators right winger Anthony Duclair each collected a hat trick for the Atlantic team, though each of their respective third goals came on empty nets. 

On the other side of the coast, the Pacific Division quickly dispatched the Central, burying them 10-5, led by a Justin Bieber cosplayer in San Jose’s left winger Tomas Hertl who notched four tallies. Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl and Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk paired up for some crisp puck movement and a score for each. 

Though it may seem impossible, hometown fans of the St. Louis Blues that were there to support their players on the Central team, ended up cheering for their long-time enemy in Blackhawks’ right-winger Patrick Kane as he scored for the Central team. Kane enjoyed the moment, cuffing his glove to his ear as if he couldn’t hear the cheers of the Blues fans. St. Louis got the last laugh though, as the Central Division fell to the Pacific, and Kane ultimately lost in their stadium once more. 

In the finale, a fitting battle of the coasts, the Atlantic and Pacific teams squared off for the true All-Star game. The two-period contest, though not considered intense, featured some excellent action from hockey’s best; Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Frederik Andersen dolphin dove at a slap shot to deflect it, Pastrnak set up Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman for a beautiful tip-in just 30 seconds into the game, and, finally, McDavid fed Hertl for the game-winning clapper. Pastrnak was awarded MVP, and although arguments will be made that Hertl’s five goals merited the recognition, the award isn’t that significant to either player’s career moving forward.

While the All-Star game is an entertaining scoring battle, All-Star players’ moment to shine is in the skills competition. 

Going into the All-Star weekend, everyone predicted Oilers’ star center Connor McDavid would pick up the title of fastest skater, a competition that consists of a single, timed lap around a specified region of the perimeter of the rink. To their surprise, New York Islanders forward Matt Barzal skated a 13.175-second lap around the rink to pick up the title for the fastest skater in the National Hockey League, besting McDavid by 0.275 seconds.

The save streak competition is for the goaltenders. They have ten skaters come in on a breakaway and the goalie who stops the most breakaways in a row wins. Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, playing at his home rink in front of a St. Louis-heavy crowd, gave the fans a reason to celebrate. He was the last goalie to take the ice for the save streak competition and proceeded to rack up 10 straight stops for the win. Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning finished second with nine shots stopped.

Defensemen Jacob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes took home the title in the accuracy shooting competition, which is set up with the shooter in the slot and five targets in the net. The objective is to hit the targets in the least amount of time possible. Slavin completed the challenge with a time of 9.505 seconds. Forward Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks came in a close second place but he was stuck on the top right target which opened an opportunity for Slavin to take the crown.

In similar fashion, the hardest shot competition sees players line up at the blue line, and hit the puck as fast as they can into the goal and through the sensors, measuring the puck’s velocity. Former Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues star defenseman Al MacInnis, a seven-time winner of the event, started the proceedings with a 100.4 mph slapper at the age of 56. Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber’s first attempt was good enough to win the title (105.9), but he took another attempt for fun and beat it (106.5 mph). 

This year the skills competition saw a new event, the shooting stars challenge. This competition featured players going into the stands to shoot for targets at center ice that each had designated point values. Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Patrick Kane and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward Mitch Marner were tied at 22 points after the initial round, which led to a one-shot tiebreaker. Marner missed completely, giving the longtime Chicago Blackhawks standout the opportunity to hit a two-point target for the win.

Though many young talents such as McDavid, Pastrnak and the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, were on display, the true highlight of the weekend is the increased inclusion of women in the weekend’s festivities. Members of the NWHL were invited to compete in 3-on-3 contests, in addition to competing in skills challenges such as the fastest skater.

With the inclusion and further propulsion into the national spotlight, women’s hockey will hopefully continue to expand and thrive, especially with girls around the world watching their potential role models compete alongside the men’s players. While the two entities aren’t at complete equality yet, the movement is in the right direction and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NHL and NWHL pairing up to put together more interesting events for All-Star weekends to come.

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