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Sunday, 29 January 2012

NHL All-Star Wrap-Up

A great weekend of hockey and fan interaction came to an end today as the NHL All-Star Game wound down the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend. Team Alfredsson and Team Chara did battle in the Skills Competition yesterday, and those two fantasy teams met up in the big game today. Could Team Alfredsson send the fans home happy as his Senators-laden team earned the win? Would Team Chara overcome their "deficiencies" in the Skills Competition and defeat Team Alfredsson on Ottawa ice? Who would be the MVP in the 2012 NHL All-Star Game?

We'll start with the results of the Skills Competition first. The first event held on Saturday evening was the Fastest Skater event. Personally, I miss when all the players would race around the rink trying to beat each other and the clock. This whole skating backwards for the defencemen and having the goalies race? It's not really what I'm there to see.

In any case, the fastest player from Team Chara was Ottawa Senator rookie Colin Greening who did the circuit in 12.963 seconds. Team Alfredsson's fastest man was Rangers' rookie Carl Hagelin as he tore around the ice in 12.993 seconds. Those two skated head-to-head in the final, and Hagelin barely edged Greening out, winning in 13.218 seconds to Greening's 13.303 time. Hagelin's winning time is officially the fastest time seen in an NHL Skills Competition, beating Mike Gartner's old record of 13.386 seconds set in 1996.

The Breakaway Challenge was next, and fans were able to vote on the player whose moves they liked best. Three-time reigning champion Alexander Ovechkin wasn't at the event, so that means we would have a new champion of the NHL's version of the Slam Dunk Competition. Team Alfredsson's three shooters were Sean Couturier, John Tavares, and Logan Couture. Team Chara countered with Ryan Johansen, Patrick Kane, and Corey Perry.

Tema Alfredsson's shooters didn't really resonate with the fans as none of them hit double-digits in fan voting. Personally, they didn't really wow me either. The man who put on a real show was Chicago's Patrick Kane as he donned the Clark Kent glasses and Superman cape during his breakaway chances. The fans in Ottawa warmed up to the show, and gave him the victory with 49% of the votes.

Accuracy Shooting was up next, and I always like this event because it really shows who has a knack for putting the puck where they want it. A lot of the greatest goal scorers have never won this event, but the guys who have are always feared shooters in their own rights. Past winners include Daniel Sedin, Evgeni Malkin, Jeremy Roenick, and, the man who has won this event the most in its history, Raymond Bourque. Team Chara would be represented by Cody Hodgson, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Marian Hossa. Team Alfredsson would send out Matt Read, Jason Spezza, Steven Stamkos, and reigning champion Daniel Sedin.

If this was simply a hit-the-net contest, Steven Stamkos would be a favorite. But it took Stamkos 44.684 seconds to hit all four targets. Yowza! Anyway, Team Chara's most accurate shooter in the shortest time was Dallas' Jamie Benn as he took down the four targets in 13.583 seconds. Philly's Matt Read was Team Alfredsson's most accurate shooter as he nailed all four targets in 14.011 seconds. In the final, Benn made short work of Read as he took down all four targets in 10.204 second while Read needed 16.361 seconds.

The Skills Relay Challenge is a collection of passing and shooting drills done in two heats by eight players at a time. This event doesn't really interest me that much because the vast majority of these players will never set one another up in a real game. Needless to say, I happen to flip channels at this time, but Team Alfredsson won in 2:08.

The Hardest Shot event was next, and this, to me, is the equivalent of the Home Run Derby in baseball. The Hardest Shot event has been won the last four years by Zdeno Chara, and there's always hope someone can come along and best Boston's big man. Shea Weber always seems to come close, so there was hope that some rockets would fired on Saturday.

Team Alfredsson saw three of the four shooters break 100 mph, and Shea Weber emerged as Team Alfredsson's biggest bomber as he reached 104.9 mph on the radar gun. But the big bad Bruin topped all challengers in the preliminaries with a record-breaking 108.8 mph blast! Weber and Chara would square off in the final, and Weber put up his fastest blast of the event in reaching 106.0 mph. But Chara was not to be denied his fifth-straight title as he launched a 107.0 mph blast to best Weber, and give Team Chara the win in this event.

The final event was the Elimination Shootout that sees twelve shooters and all goalies involved. Players have to score on their shootout attempt to advance to the next round, and goalies face four players before switching up. Past winners have included Dion Phaneuf, Shane Doan, and Corey Perry.

Team Chara's shooters were done early as Brian Elliott, Henrik Lundqvist, and Jonathan Quick turned away all but three shooters in their opening round before Lundqvist closed the door on Malkin, Iginla, and Timonen to end Team Chara's bid for victory in this event. Team Alfredsson saw a number of players advance through to the second round before Jason Pominville, Steven Stamkos, and John Tavares ended up in the third round after having scored on their first two attempts. Stamkos beat Tim Thomas while Thomas stopped Tavares, eliminating Tavares. Jimmy Howard stared down Jason Pominville, and that would give Steven Stamkos and Team Alfredsson the win as he made good on all three attempts.

Overall, Team Alfredsson defeated Team Chara by a 21-12 score in the Skills Competition, but the All-Star Game itself hasn't been very friendly to the team that wins the Skills Competition. Would Sunday's game keep the good times rolling for Team Alfredsson, or could Team Chara capture the most important win of the weekend?

For a while in the game, it appeared that hometown hero Daniel Alfredsson would capture the MVP award, joining only eight other players in NHL history to win the All-Star Game MVP award on home ice. But a Slovakian emerged from the pack, scoring three goals and adding an assist to outscore Alfredsson and capture the MVP award.

Team Chara's Marian Gaborik had his hat trick completed by early in the second period, and Team Chara's Tim Thomas recorded his fourth-straight win at an NHL All-Star Game as Team Chara downed Team Alfredsson by a 12-9 score. While the score reflected those players who won, it was clear that everyone involved had a weekend they won't soon forget.

"You can't ask for anything better," Chara said after the game. "We want to enjoy ourselves, have fun, and most of all we want to put on a good show."

But the star of the weekend had to be Ottawa's unofficial ambassador, Daniel Alfredsson. "From a selfish point it's going to rank really high, where it's just a whole ego weekend, pretty much," Alfredsson said when asked about his personal thoughts on the weekend.

"Personally, I feel healthy," he added. "I'm having fun on the ice again. And, to have a weekend like this, it's surreal. You can never dream of anything like this, and you don't really know how to embrace it. I don't think until tonight, after the kids go to bed, you can kind of sit and relax - I'm sure I'll be dead tired, but I'll take it all in and realize that this is something that not everybody gets a chance to experience. I don't know if I deserve it or not, but it's definitely humbling."

Congratulations to Team Chara, to Marian Gaborik for his efforts which resulted in a $25,000 donation to a charity of his choice, and to the people of Ottawa for a fantastic weekend. Here's hoping that next year's game in Columbus only sets the bar higher when it comes to the All-Star Weekend experience!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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