Eastern Conference Wins AHL All-Star Skills Competition

The American Hockey League held their All-Star Skills Competition in Utica, New York at the Adirondack Bank Center. It consisted of seven events that netted individual winners and a team winner in the Eastern Conference. This was just the second time in the last seven years that the East has won this event and the first time since 2015.

The Binghamton Devils were being represented by Bracken Kearns (who is also the captain of the Eastern Conference for tomorrow’s AHL All-Star Game) and Jacob MacDonald. There was also a former New Jersey Devil in the form of Reid Boucher (now of the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks) participating.

The first event was the Puck Control Relay, which consists of two rounds of a team of three players grabbing a puck at one end of the rink and skating through a course. The final two rounds are one-on-one with one skater representing a side.

The West won the first round, with Matt Lorito (Grand Rapids Griffins), Emil Pettersson (Milwaukee Admirals) and Mason Appleton (Manitoba Moose) giving them the lead. The East won the second three-man round as Mitchell Stephens (Syracuse Crunch), Justin Holl (Toronto Marlies) and CJ Smith (Rochester Americans) claimed victory.

The final two rounds, both one-on-one races saw Chris Terry (Laval Rocket) win for the East and Boucher win for the West. At the end of the first event, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference were each tied at a “goal” apiece. A goal being earned for a victory in each event.

Next up was the Fastest Skater event. Here, a goal was awarded to the player with the best time’s team and to the team with the best average time. John Gilmour of the Hartford Wolf Pack of the East won the individual time challenge with 13.663 seconds around the perimeter of the rink. The East also gained a point for having the fastest average time, as Warren Foegele (Charlotte Checkers) – 14.506 and Stephens – 14.072 were also faster than their Western counterparts.

Next was the Rapid Fire event where a goalie faces two shooters one-on-one. The Conference with the most saves gained a goal. The East won this one 32 saves to 30. East netminders included Jordan Binnington (Providence Bruins), Linus Ullmark (Rochester), Christopher Gibson (Bridgeport SoundTigers) and Thatcher Demko (Utica). The East was up in the overall competition 5-2.

Event four was the Hardest Shot competition. This one is like the Fastest Skater competition, as there was an individual winner and the team with the best average shot also gaining a goal. The individual winner was Alexandre Grenier of the Springfield Thunderbirds with 104.1 miles per hour, giving the East a goal. However, the West won the average as Brady Austin (Cleveland Monsters) – 101.5 MPH, Andy Welinsky (San Diego Gulls) – 97.8 MPH, Cameron Schilling (Manitoba) – 102.0 MPH and Rasmus Andersson (Stockton Heat) – 101.5 MPH had the better aggregate. MacDonald took part in this event, with 98.0 MPH being the better of his two shots.

The next event was the Accuracy Shooting. This is still similar to how the NHL used to do things, with players shooting at styrofoam targets and breaking them, the player who breaks all four targets in the fewest shots wins. The team that does so also gains a goal. There were co-winners of this one, both from the East. Chris Terry and Chris Bourque (Hershey Bears) were the individual winners, each breaking the four targets in five attempts. The East gained a team win too, taking 25 shots to break 16 targets. The other shooters for the East were Valentin Zykov of Charlotte (4/7) and Boucher (4/8).

The next event was every goalies nightmare: the Pass and Score challenge. Basically, three skaters come down on the goaltender 3-on-0 and the goalie has to stop them as many times as they can in three tries. The West won this one 6 goals to 2. Binnington made two saves on three shots for the East in round one. In round two, Anders Lindback (Milwaukee) stopped two of three shots (MacDonald was shooting for the East in this round) for the West. Ullmark gave up goals on all three shots he faced in round three for the East. Antoine Bibeau (San Jose Barracuda) stopped all three East shots he saw in round four. Round five saw the West score once on Gibson against two saves. In round six, Cal Petersen of the Ontario Reign made a stop on three shots. Round seven saw Thatcher Demko of Utica give up a goal to the West. And, finally, in round eight, Michael Hutchinson of Manitoba made all three stops against an Eastern onslaught that included Bracken Kearns of Binghamton.

After six events, it was the Eastern Conference 10 and the Western Conference 9 on the total scoreboard.

The final event was the Breakaway Relay, where every All-Star got a chance to break in on a goalie in eight rounds. The East won this event 8-3, giving them the overall title. Binghamton’s MacDonald scored a goal against Bibeau in round four that the NHL Network announcers called the goal of the night, a real compliment in a skills competition, for sure. Kearns went up against Hutchinson in round eight and was stopped.

So, the Eastern Conference came away with the overall win, 18-12. The fans in Utica and the players really seemed to be enjoying themselves in what was a fun event to witness.

We will see you back here tomorrow for the AHL All-Star Classic.

NHL All-Star Skills Competition Format Set

Next Saturday (January 28) is the annual NHL All-Star Skills Competition, held the night before the All-Star Game, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The NHL today revealed the format for each of the events. The division that wins the event as a whole will get to choose which division they wish to face first in the mini tournament played the next day.

The team captains, elected by the fans, will choose which players from their team will participate in each of the six events in the skills competition. The captains are Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens – Atlantic Division), PK Subban (Nashville Predators – Central Division), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins – Metropolitan Division) and Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers – Pacific Division). Each of the 44 players selected to represent their teams “will compete in at least one of the six rounds of skill-based contests.” Taylor Hall will be the Devils’ lone representative.

The six competitions are:

  • The Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay: Three points available, team with “fastest time in each heat scores one point; the team with the fastest overall time scores one bonus point.” A timed relay, seven skaters and one goalie will compete for each division. According to the NHL website, there will be “four relays with five challenges each.” The five challenges are: one-timers (three shooters, one passer); puck control (one skater); stick handling (one skater) and goalie goals (one goalie). According to the NHL site, “each skill must be completed before moving on to the next challenge with the exception of one timers (a maximum of 30 seconds will be allocated), passing (a maximum of 45 seconds will be allocated and goalie goals (a maximum of 30 seconds will be allocated). The goal is to finish all five challenges faster than the opponent.”

The two heats will consist of the Central Division versus the Pacific Division and the Atlantic Division versus the Metropolitan Division.

  • Honda NHL Four Line Challenge: With one point available (“team with most points at end of event scores one point”), this is an interesting event. Each team will furnish four shooters in one of four positions: near blue line, center line, far blue line and far goal line. The first shooter will be set up at the near blue line and will try to score “in either the upper left or upper right corner of the net” in two attempts. Each goal scores a point for their team. The next shooter gets two attempts to score in one of the four corners of the net from center ice. Lower corners get one point, upper corners are three points. Next up, a shooter from the far blue line gets two shots to shoot in any of the corners or the five hole. Lower corners or five hole are one point, upper corners score five points. The last set of shooters shoot from the far goal line and get two attempts. They must score five hole and a successful shot nets ten points.

In a great twist, captains can substitute the final shooter (the one from the goal line) with a goalie. If a goalie scores, the team gets 20 points. This would have been the perfect competition for Martin Brodeur. The first two All-Stars to score two goals five hole from the goal line win a 2017 Honda CRV.

  • DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting: Six points are on the line, with the winner of each divisional matchup scoring one point. In addition, the player who hits the four targets in the fastest time gets a bonus point for their team. Also, if the record (7.3 seconds set by Daniel Sedin) is broken, the player breaking it scores a bonus point for their team.

Two shooters from each team and two passers, as a shooter from each division go head-to-head to try to take out four 15-inch diameter targets in each corner of the net in the quickest time. “The teams will be situated in opposite ends of the rink, and will alternate attempts. The shooter to hit all four targets in the fastest time wins.”

The match ups will be: Atlantic Division versus Metro Division and Pacific Division versus Central Division alternating twice.

  • Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater: Six points up for grabs, as the winner of each match up gets one point, fastest skater gets a bonus point. An additional point if the fastest skater beats Dylan Larkin’s record of 13.172 seconds.

This is a fastest skater race. Two players from each division go head-to-head. “The race track for the head-to-head match-ups is the border of the rink split in half lengthways.” The skaters are timed and if there is a tie, each team receives a point. At the conclusion of the head-to-head match ups, the skater with the fastest time “will skate a full lap of the outside border of the rink, in the direction of their choosing, in an attempt to break” Larkin’s record. If two skaters are tied for the fastest time, both skaters will skate a full lap of the rink.

Again, the Pacific Division versus Central Division and Atlantic versus Metro will alternate against each other.

  • Oscar Mayer NHL Hardest Shot: On the line are six points with bonus points going to the player with the hardest shot in this completion and a bonus point if someone breaks Zdeno Chara’s record (108.8 mph). 

Two shooters from each team (Atlantic versus Metro and Pacific versus Central alternating again) go head-to-head with two shots apiece. Each team alternates taking slap shots which are timed in miles per hour. The highest of the two shots are recorded.

  • Discover NHL Shootout: This event is similar to the Home Run Derby in the MLB All-Star Game. One point is available for each goal scored and two points for a goal scored with a Discover puck. “Nine skaters from each of the top-scoring teams from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will participate.” One additional player will be chosen by the captain from their respective conference.

According to the NHL’s site, “the scoreboard will reset to 0-0 prior to the start of the Discover NHL Shootout. Goals scored count as one point.” The site says that the players chosen by the captains “from the losing team will be designated Discover puck players.” Their goals count as two points.
The goalies will switch off after five shooters and the NHL shootout rules apply to each scoring attempt (i.e. no stopping or doubling back, etc.). If both teams are tied after the ten shooters, shootout continues in “sudden death format until a winner is determined.” The captains will choose each shooter before a shot and skaters “are eligible to shoot multiple times, without restriction.”