The Vancouver Canucks teamed up with the bantam A1 Seafair Islanders to put on quite a show Sunday at Rogers Arena in their annual Superskills event.
Split up into two squads, Team White and Team Blue, as they took part in six head to head competitions that showcased their skill and agility that enables them to sit atop the Western Conference. Events included puck control relay, fastest skater, accuracy shooting, hardest shot, a breakaway relay and a power play event.
Both teams battled hard, with Team White jumping out to a big lead but it was Team Blue who laughed last as they slowly but surely chipped away at Team White’s lead to come up with a 14-10 victory in front of a boisterous sold out crowd.
The event kicked off with the Canucks Alumni playing a game of shinny that included color man John Garrett in the net making several big stops and hamming it up for the crowd. The game ended in a draw with blue knotting up the score with their goalie pulled for the extra attacker.
Next it was on to the main event where Canucks present stars pitted their skills against one another. The Puck Control relay was first with the Sedin brothers and Manny Malhotra going up against Ryan Kesler, David Booth, and Dan Hamhuis. It was tight the whole way, the only difference being a tiny slip up by Kesler, paving the way for an early Team Blue lead.
That lead was short lived as Chris Higgins beat out Alex Burrows for the one on one challenge of the event, to put Team White on the board.
The much-anticipated fastest skater event was up next, and on a team built around speed there was no shortage of candidates. Keith Ballard surprised everyone, posting the fastest time, including the sold out crowd that all but gave the crown to speed demon Mason Raymond even before he went with a deafening roar.
“Yeah, I thought Mase was going to be the one to beat…I don’t know, with D-men you don’t really get to see us at full speed,” Ballard said with a smile. “Forwards are up and down the ice and you can see their speed more, where as D-men it’s there every now and then but you don’t really do the big end to end rushes or the hard back check plays like forwards so we don’t get up to full speed very much.”
When asked what he thought his chances were coming into the event, Ballard had this to say;
“I knew I had a pretty good chance, I think I can hold my own with most guys.”
Ballard didn’t want to rub it in either, instead taking the high road to avoid hurting his speedy winger’s feelings after narrowly beating him out with a time of 13.444.
“I don’t want to make him cry, after all it’s kind of his event,” laughed Ballard. “I’ll let him win next year, I just needed to do it once to prove that I could do it.”
The hardest shot competition was up next and thankfully for the fans it included Sami Salo, who’s been out with a concussion ever since he was submarined by Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins. And he didn’t disappoint either, posting the two hardest shots, putting up a winning speed of 102.7 MPH on his second attempt.
Salo’s appearance was all the buzz in the room, especially after it was misconstrued that he may retire at the end of this season. But Salo quickly put an end to that notion saying that he simply meant Alex Edler let him win this year because his career is winding down.
“He gave it back knowing I’m near the end of my career,” said Salo.
Daniel Sedin, last year’s winner over Patrick Kane in the All-Star festivities in Carolina, looked to be the favorite to win the accuracy shootout but it was fellow Blue Team member Alex Burrows who went four for four destroying all of his targets.
“I had two great passers in Manny and Hanky so it made it easy,” said Burrows who showboated a bit afterwards in an attempt to mock Kesler who had pre-maturely celebrated his four out of five effort.
The last two events were the first to showcase arguable the best goalie tandem in the NHL and they didn’t disappoint. The Blue team edged Team White four to one in the power play event and then two to one on the breakaway relay. Roberto Luongo was just far too stingy allowing just two goals in both events combined.
In the end Team Blue walked away with a 14-10 victory and bragging rights over Team White.
The Superskills challenge, which also included face painting, pictures with several mascots on hand and the opportunity to see their team in a different light, was another remarkably successful event as the players put on a great show for their loyal fans. But it was the players themselves that were impressed with the great fan turnout.
“I’ve had a couple skills competitions on other teams but they didn’t really compete,” said Dale Weise. “To be honest with you I thought there would be like 2,000 people here. I had no idea it was that kind of magnitude or that many people would show. It just goes to show you how passionate the fans are here and it’s just fun to be a part of.”
Weise was the last player to leave the ice as he stayed in the tunnel signing what seemed like a never-ending supply of fans jerseys, towels and programs.
“A lot of times we do signings we have time restrictions so I can’t get to everybody, so anytime I get an opportunity to sign some stuff, I’m more than willing to do it,” said the fan-friendly Weise. “It was a fun time, It’s always good to have events like this for the team because every other day is all business around here and pretty serious. Points are so big right now so it’s good for everyone to bring their kids and families in to have a fun day.”
All in all the day was a fun-filled fan friendly event that was enjoyed by everyone involved. And what event would be complete without a Kes-Bomb by Kesler? With a little help from his son, Kesler got Malhotra over the shoulder while being interviewed by Sportnets’ Dan Murphy.
Net proceeds of the event will go to the Canucks for Kids Fund and the NHLPA’s Goals of Dreams Fund.