Brian Boyle filled in for Taylor Hall as the Devils’ NHL All-Star Weekend representative and he did so as a fan favorite across the league. The Devils’ center, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia prior to training camp, not only received a warm welcome from his old fans in Tampa, but he also impressed in the shooting accuracy event.
Boyle got a nice ovation from the classy Tampa Bay fans the moment he hit the ice for warmups. It continued as he was cheered during the official introductions of the Metropolitan Division All-Stars. He did a few interviews with NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick over the course of the evening where he was as witty and well-spoken as we here in New Jersey have seen throughout this season.
The event was as good as these events get. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but some fans do really enjoy them and that is good. The players always put on a good show and really are out to entertain more than any time during the NHL season.
The first event was the Fastest Skater competition, won by the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid with a time of 13.454 seconds. Basically, this is a race against the clock where the player skates for one full lap around the rink. Brayden Point of the hometown Tampa Bay Lightning came in second with a time of 13.579 seconds.
If the Fastest Skater competition is pretty straightforward, the Passing Challenge was when things started getting a little bit complicated. The eight players competing had to complete three skills: target passing, “where each player must complete four successful passes to targets that light up in a random sequence” according to the NHL’s website; give and go where players passed to three targets that rebounded the puck back to them through the neutral zone; and mini nets, where there was a barricade set up and players had to saucer pass the puck into four mini nets and the game net. Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues won this one in a time of 46.610 seconds. Second place went to Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild with a time of 54.679 seconds.
The Save Streak event was next. Here, five goaltenders had to face a division’s worth of shooters and had to make as many consecutive saves as they could before letting in a goal. The longest streak won. Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights won with a streak of 14 straight saves. Second place was the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne with 13 straight saves. Rinne faced the Metro Division and Brian Boyle, who was stopped twice. Fleury faced the Atlantic Division shooters in getting his win, stopping players like Jack Eichel, Aleksander Barkov, Point, Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos and the Bruins’ currently suspended Brad Marchand. Marchand was the recipient of boos all night long, likely stemming from his cheap shot elbow to the head of the Devils’ Marcus Johansson, a move that led to Johansson suffering a concussion and him getting his five game ban. The NHL allowed him to particpate in the All-Star festivities and the fans let him know what they thought of his decision.
The Puck Control Relay was next up. This, too, included three skills: stickhandling – which saw the players control the puck through “a series of eight pucks in a straight line”; cone control – where a player skates the puck around eight cones set up “in a zig-zag formation”; and gates. This was the tricky one for most of the players. Here a player had to approach “a gate and (was) required to shoot or otherwise guide the puck through the lighted rung of a gate.” This gates were set up vertically, so the skill required some juggling of the puck. Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames was the winner with a time of just 24.650 seconds. The next fastest time belonged to the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, as the former lacrosse player had an easier time of picking the puck up with his stick and getting it through the gates.
The Hardest Shot competion is another refreshingly straightforward competion in a series of some kind of convoluted ones. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals won the first round with a shot clocked at 98.8 miles per hour. He also won the second round – and the overall competion – with a shot clocked at 101.3 miles per hour. That shot was the only one to break the 100 mile per hour barrier in the entire competition. Ovechkin became a rare forward to win, as usually it is the defensemen who tend to shine in this one.
The final event of the evening was the Accuracy Shooting. In years past, players would fire pucks at styrofoam targets and hit them in any order they wanted in the four corners of the goal cage. This year, there were five targets (including a five hole one inthe center of the net), which were LED lights behind Plexiglass that randomly lit up. The player had to shoot at the blue target, which would randomly change every three seconds. Once the target was hit, it would turn red and the player would move on to another target. The Vancouver Canucks’ rookie Brock Boeser won hitting all five targets in eight shots in a time of 11.136 seconds. Boyle came in second, hitting the five targets in eight shots as well, but taking a little bit longer at 11.626 seconds. He actually hit the upper left post, costing him a little bit of time. Boeser became the first ever rookie to win this event.
Overall, it was a fun night. Boyle was shown the love and appreciation that you would expect from good hockey fans like they have in Tampa and the players, as well as the fans, seemed to really enjoy themselves.
Tomorrow, the main event, as the NHL All-Star Game will be played (as a series of mini games within a tournament structure) at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. We will see you then.