Rookies make an impression at 2015 NHL All-Star Skills Competition
When 45 NHL All-Stars took to the ice at Nationwide Arena last night to participate in the skills competition, there were six players who were at their first All-Star experience in their rookie year in the league: Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman, Jiri Sekac from Montreal, Florida’s Aaron Ekblad, Filip Forsberg from Nashville and Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin.
"It’s fun to be part of this weekend," Drouin said. "Just to be here is fun and we enjoyed it."
Drouin won the fastest skater competition overall with a time of 13.103 seconds. In his individual heat he beat out Hoffman who had previously won fastest skater in the American Hockey League and also in an Ottawa Senators team competition.
"We didn’t want to fall," Drouin said. "I think (Hoffman) stumbled in the corner there a bit but he was right behind me."
The rookies weren’t nervous about just falling, being in the spotlight of the league brought some overall nerves along with the excitement of being part of the All-Star experience.
"It took a little bit of time to lose the nervousness," Gaudreau said. "For about the first 15-20 minutes I was a little nervous because I had to do one of the first challenges (breakaway) but after that it was great."
Gaudreau, who has earned the moniker "Johnny Hockey" may have had some carry over anxiety from the cannon fire that is a hallmark of Nationwide Arena. He was spotted jumping in reaction to the initial boom after team introductions, but the Calgary Flame, who has gone 13-22-35 in 46 games this year, quickly got down to business.
Going in to the breakaway challenge, one that is known for giving players an opportunity to show off creative play and sometimes the use of props, Gaudreau had come up with an idea to light his stick on fire.
"Me and (Mike Giordano) were brainstorming on the bus ride here," Gaudreau said. "We asked one of the player safety guys here if we could do it and they said no, but it would have been cool to do."
Gaudreau, who is on Team Toews, knocked home two of three of his breakaway attempts that showed more skill than gimmickry. But it was another player who made him part of one of the most memorable attempts in the competition.
After Blue Jacket forward Ryan Johansen, who plays for Team Foligno, grabbed the son of one of the local team’s trainers for his second attempt in the breakaway, former Jacket and Team Toews player Jakub Voracek had an idea.
The quick thinking Flyer forward decided to imitate the Johansen shoot out, but instead of another child, he grabbed the 5-foot-9 Gaudreau as his "young player" to take a shot attempt.
"He came up and asked me first if it was alright," Gaudreau said. "I thought it d be pretty funny to do something like that and it was a lot of fun."
The moves got plenty of cheers from the crowd and while Johansen would go on to win the breakaway challenge, Gaudreau and Voracek had certainly made an impression.
Gaudreau also competed in puck control as part of the skills challenge relay. In the same competition, Forsberg and Hoffman participated in the stick handling segment and Sekac passed for one-timers. Ekblad would try his hand at hardest shot tallying 95.3 miles per hour.
All six rookies took part in the final shootout competition as well, with each but Gaudreau knocking at least one shot past the goalies.
Traditionally for rookies, the skills competition or some similarly rookie-focused event has marked the end of All-Star participation for first-year players; but this year, due to injuries, three of the six rookies will also be playing Sunday in the All-Star Game.
Gaudreau joins Ekblad and Forsberg in playing for Team Toews.
"I am playing tomorrow," Gaudreau said. "I’m really excited. It’s going be pretty exciting just to play with some of the guys in this locker room."
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