January 24, 2009
MONTREAL -- Tim Thomas sat in the locker room and appeared ready for the question to be asked. In the NHL SuperSkills competition's elimination shootout finale, Thomas appeared to stand motionless and allow his Boston Bruins teammate Marc Savard to score, keeping Savard alive in the competition's final stages. The Michael Strahan/Brett Favre-esque moment of friendly submission drew loud jeers from a Bell Centre crowd filled with Bruins-loathing Montreal Canadiens fans.
The question finally arrived. Thomas grinned. "He had me completely fooled," he said. "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. That's the one I'm taking to court. That he had me fooled."
Savard played the role of co-conspirator afterward. "I think he was giving me a little bit, but he says he wasn't, so I'm sticking to his story too."
It was a moment of levity on a night full of light moments, from Alexander Ovechkin's prop comedy with Evgeni Malkin to New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit striking a blow for anti-commercialism by accidently destroying some on-ice advertising. It was a night in which hockey players weren't anonymously hidden under helmets; in which the name on the back of the jersey was, for a moment, more important than the logo on the front; in which players actually got off of their steady diet of clichés and were -- gasp -- interesting and honest.
"There's a lot more personality to hockey players than we actually show in front of the cameras sometimes. Or want to show. Hockey players, in general, are shy," said Thomas.
So the skills competition is actually allowing these professional wallflowers to let their hair down. Or, in the cases of Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara, put on goofy hats.
The night began with player introductions that afforded another in a string of uncomfortable moments for Vincent Lecavalier and the Tampa Bay Lightning: a deafening, come-to-us-Vinny ovation from the Canadiens fans. It'll be interesting to hear what he receives Sunday.
From where we were sitting in the upper deck, there was absolutely no way to see the clock on the fastest skater challenge, which was placed on some barrel in front of one of the goals. There wasn't digital time kept on the big screen, and it may have knocked the crowd out of this one for most of the rounds. Well, that and the NHL's complete lack of creativity in jukebox selection on this one. No "Speed Racer?" The music played made this seem like a leisurely couples skate. Boo.
This event would be better head-to-head, no?
It's sort of jarring to have this event so early in the evening. It's like seeing Plinko as the first game on "The Price Is Right," or "American Gladiators" starting with Assault. But the elimination shootout really needs to be the finale, so here it is.
The chants of "Ovie!" started early, as did the voting apparently, as the text message numbers were announced before the event. It was also announced that there was a limit of one vote per mobile phone, which instantly made the "Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge" more honorable and efficient than the entirety of the All-Star voting.
Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks was first, controlling the puck with the top of his upside-down stick, putting it past the Junior B goalie (who either tried too hard or too little, depending on who's doing the complaining). Kane tried the falling down goal ala-Ovechkin. Junior Goalie wouldn't let the puck through his five hole on Kane's between the legs shot. Oy.
Martin St. Louis won the crowd with an innovative attempt: pretending to carry the puck on his stick before dropping it out of his glove for a wild shot. Awesome.
Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks played it off his skate, went around the net, tapped the thing up and wrapped it around lacrosse style. He later tried to Hacky Sack it off his skate to his stick behind the net. Really the first guy to use the area behind the goal. Not too shabby.
Alexei Kovalev tried to play it off his head a few times but skated to the goal at a Laraque-ian pace. His routine was like the worst game of Mortal Kombat ever: the same move over and over again, with no finisher.
Steven Stamkos skates out to a Ludacris song, which is pimp. Juggles, uses his glove to play the puck and nearly scores it. His later attempt was killer: diving, using his glove to knock it to his stick before scoring. Overall, Stamkos had some trouble putting the puck in the net. Who knew?
Finally, it's Ovie time, skating to Soljah Boy Tell'em's "Crank That (Soulja Boy)." If you read this blog, you probably know how this turned out.
"I don't think anyone will do the same next year," said Ovechkin. "If they do the same, it will be [either "ripping off me" or "ripping Ovie" ... hopefully the second one]."
Here's the full event.
Blah. There's just nothing at stake. A few passes, a little razzle dazzle here and there. But the crowd was D-E-A-D, even with homeboy Carey Price in net. The loudest the crowd got was for the announcement of Blake Wheeler's name, and that was only to boo the Boston Bruins.
Maybe something should be on the line here; money for charity, a new hockey rink for one of two Podunk towns near where the game is playing. Something. Or maybe have the rookies and sophomores play against local legends or recently retired guys who'll goon it up. This format isn't working.
It was a 9-5 game and some team won. I think.
An aside: Why didn't Sidney Crosby ride out in the passenger's seat on one of the Zambonis? Isn't that what they usually do with sick kids?
McDonald's targets on the logos; the best suggestions on press row for alternatives were the faces of Sean Avery and Gary Bettman. The music improved, with the "Mission: Impossible" theme playing. The Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin defeated Dany Heatley in the finals and got a really nice ovation from the crowd, which is what we in the business call "Ovie rub." Ask Chris Clark about it.
A hilarious scene followed with Malkin: a fan threw a jersey over the glass and on the ice for him to sign, which he did. This is, of course, like feeding pigeons in the park; soon, jerseys and hats and shirts were pouring over the boards for him to sign, with nary an usher in sight to stop it. Great stuff, and Malkin was a champ about it.
Hardest Shot is a manly man competition. Like the test of strength at the carnival.
You know, Shea Weber's name actually sounds quite lovely when delivered with a French accent. His 103.4 mph blast got the crowd buzzing. Sheldon Souray, the former Hab and current Oilers, received a nice ovation from the fans and went over 102. Zdeno Chara heard boos before his attempt and shot a 103.3. On his second chance, Chara set a new record at 105.4, and the crowd cheered wildly, some standing.
"Records are meant to be broken," said Chara.
"I'm just glad that Montreal fans really recognize the whole point of the competition. In the end, I just want to thank them. I know they're very passionate, they cheer for their own team, and obviously Boston is the biggest rivalry," he said. "Tonight was really special. We got booed a little bit in the beginning ... but in the end they were cheering."
Chara put on a goofy yellow cap with a red ball hanging off of it to pimp the Right To Play charity he advocates.
They didn't announce the rules in the arena, so here goes: Before the competition, the four goalies conducted a random draw to determine the nine shooters that they will face in the first round. Shooters that score move on to the next round. The goalies were switched up throughout.
The music started out strong for this one. "Flight of the Valkyries?" Awesome.
There were some really cool moments here and there. Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres waving his stick over the puck twice before blowing it past J.S. Giguere. Getzlaf putting on a hat and then scoring on Thomas. Kovalev unleashing a nasty wrister on Thomas.
Tim Thomas was a beast. Flopping around like a mad man, keeping the puck out any way he could. Then again, it's a meaningless exhibition being played a day before another meaningless exhibition. If Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli wasn't a smoker before, he probably is now.
Two priceless moments. Mark Streit ran into promotional advertising kiosk on the ice after his shot attempt, smashing it to bits. The Montreal crowd gave their former defenseman a Bronx cheer.
Later, an NHL worker tripped over the Honda ad on the ice while trying to tell Shane Doan he's about to shoot at the wrong goal. And that's what you get for being helpful and for standing so close to Mark Streit.
It came down to Marc Savard, Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes and Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche. Doan beat Giguere five-hole, before Thomas literally stood there and allowed Savard to beat him for a tie. Doan, clearly having a blast, scored on his next attempt. New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist poke-checked Savard for the win. Good night and off to the bars.
Hopefully the main event is as loose and unpredictable as the undercard.