The Good, Fun and Eh of All-Star Weekend: Hughes and Zegras highlight Skills Competition in Vegas, Metro takes All-Star Game

On Friday and Saturday, the NHL held All-Star Weekend in Vegas. It didn’t disappoint. Especially the Skills Competition that aired on both ESPN and ESPN Plus.

With the marquee event in Vegas, they went all out to create some intriguing competitions for the players to participate in. At least the traditional Fastest Skater and Hardest Shot remained intact. Although I was a bit disappointed in how many players took part in the latter.

Perhaps the most out there idea was having players shoot at targets outside T-Mobile Arena at the Billagio. Rather than the original targets we grew accustomed to which I prefer, they decided to move this event outdoors into the elements which included a waterfall and actual ocean for participants to deal with.

I’ll admit this was a unique idea they came up with. You had two rounds. Semifinals had players looking to score into four different goal targets on the water. Obviously, the two fastest times advanced. Perhaps my favorite participant was Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson. The three-time Olympian sure wowed the competition by firing pucks into the four targets in just over 16 seconds. She nearly made the final.

Roman Josi was able to eliminate Lamoureux-Davidson as the final shooter to advance to the final against Zach Werenski. So, you had two defensemen pitted against each other. The curveball was they had to shoot at five targets instead of four. It made a huge difference for Werenski, who won the Fountain Challenge while Josi had issues with the fifth and final one. It reminded me of Jonathan Huberdeau in the semifinal when he butchered the four.

While this event was enjoyable, I feel it could’ve been even better if they had spectators cheering on the competitors outside. I also wouldn’t have minded seeing guys like Huberdeau and Claude Giroux, who were eliminated, jumping into the water. That would’ve been amusing.

Maybe it’s just me because I’m a traditionalist. I preferred the old targets in the one net when you had sharpshooters Ray Bourque, Mark Messier and Jeremy Roenick going four for four. Those were classics. I never felt they needed to change that. Whether it was the lame electronic devices or the water which at least was entertaining, it was always a signature event. We’ll see what they come up with next.

Another event I loved was the breakaway. Not to be confused with the consecutive saves streak that featured each division tandem with the Atlantic duo of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jack Campbell taking that with nine straight saves. This one featured Manon Rheaume in net. The only female goalie to play in an NHL preseason game doing so for the Lightning, she had fun against a creative cast of players that included Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras and Alex DeBrincat. Home favorite Alex Pietrangelo won due to some home cooking from Jon Hamm, who guest judged with Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and other legends.

However, it was Hughes and Zegras who stole the show. They really put on one for the fans, who were mesmerized by their unique tricks with even some magic provided by the lone Devil representative Hughes. He really is fun to watch. It’s obvious he and good friend Zegras have a bromance going dating back to their days playing for the US National Team when they were teenagers.

Think this kids don’t have personality? It looks like it’s the young American centers leading the way into the future. Look at this from Zegras, who preempted Hughes with the Dodgeball blindfold gimmick to score lacrosse style on Rheaume.

Even DeBrincat came up with something as fun. He had to follow Jack Hughes, who provided the abracadabra that featured Mini Me Jack Hughes scoring with both tossing their sticks into the crowd. I liked what DeBrincat did. It was also creative. It got Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr involved with him completing a pass for a skating DeBrincat, who then controlled a football and beat Rheaume while decked out in full Hangover get up as Allan. Carr’s Raiders teammate wide receiver Hunter Renfroe played the part of Mike Tyson with a fake tiger.

I thought of all the contests they had, this was the best because it embodies the direction the league needs to go. It’s an All-Star Weekend. Why not showcase the young stars by having some fun. They already altered the game format with the three-on-three two 10-minute period semifinal and final for a winner take all cool million.

In terms of fastest skater, it was an upset. Connor McDavid didn’t take home his fourth title. The door was left open due to most of the skaters having problems with the final turn. That screwed up Dylan Larkin, who started out well only to finish badly. Rangers All-Star Chris Kreider led off with a 13.664. If he’d started a bit faster, he might’ve won. He actually beat out McDavid, who had a tough finish.

The winner was dark horse Jordan Kyrou. He beat out Adrian Kempe and Kreider to take the fastest skater. McDavid went 13.690 to finish fourth.

Hardest shot only had four shooters. They included Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech, ever popular Tom Wilson, Timo Meier and Victor Hedman. Not surprisingly, Hedman took it by firing 103.2 on his second attempt after a 102.7 to crack 100 MPH twice. Something the other three shooters couldn’t do.

Maybe they should’ve had a warmup. Having only four shooters definitely took away from a once big event where you had guys like Al Iafrate, Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber bombing away for much faster shots. Iafrate still is tops before all the wacky technology came in.

While I enjoyed the save streak because we got to see all eight goalies with Cam Talbot Mic’d Up having fun while faring well, it was not surprising to see Vasilevskiy and Campbell turn aside the Metro Division. Though Kreider provided this highlight vs Vasilevskiy by pulling a Kucherov on the Lightning netminder.

As for the actual three games, it was the Metro over the Pacific 6-4 and the Central over the Atlantic 8-5 to advance to the championship. In the final, Claude Giroux scored twice and Jack Hughes had a goal and assist including this beautiful pass for a Chris Kreider goal as the Metro won the championship 5-3 over the Central. Tristan Jarry stopped 14 of 15 shots.

Hughes had a great weekend. He had four points (3-1-4) in the two wins and could’ve been MVP over Giroux. He also was a big hit in Vegas with his buddy Trevor Zegras, who eerily reminds me of the epic Jeff Spicoli character played by a young Sean Penn in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It’s his quirky and cool demeanor which seems to be similar to Hughes. Imagine these two in the same locker room.

That is how I envision their relationship off the ice. It’s also what I see in Zegras, who seems like the coolest guy in the room. Very marketable. Are you listening, NHL, TNT and ESPN?

I know there were quite a few hockey fans who don’t care for what the NHL All-Star Weekend has become. I get it. The game is a glorified exhibition. However, if you can enjoy some of the creativity they do with the Skills Competition and chill out, then there is fun to be had. How can you not laugh at what Hughes, DeBrincat and Zegras provided? All American too.

Personalities. It sure beats the usual boring answers you get from most players. If they try, it really can still be “the coolest game on Earth.

A second half awaits. For some teams, they’ll start up by Tuesday, February 8. For others like the Rangers, there’s no games scheduled until Feb. 15. With the trade rumors heating up and the games intensifying, it should be interesting. Drop the puck!

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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