Ah, the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, that incomparable showcase of breathtaking hockey talent, where reputations are built and legends are made.
And where better to bring the event back to life after last season’s COVID-19 layoff than the gaudy, glamorous Las Vegas Strip?
Hockey in the desert is very happening. Just ask Auston Matthews — he’ll be there!
The skills competition has long been appointment viewing for hockey fans, a once-a-year chance to see their favorite players going toe-to-toe against other greats from around the league. But if you’re newer to the program (or just need a refresher on what’s to come), we’re here to help.
The NHL staged its first skills competition in 1990, ahead of the 41st All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. It’s been a staple for the league ever since, and over the years different contests have been introduced to challenge participants.
In 2022, the NHL is leaning into its setting by introducing two Vegas-themed events. Those will be part of the festivities along with five games used in past skills competitions. The winner of each contest wins a $30,000 prize.
All the fun gets underway Friday, Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. To get you ready, here is a breakdown of the seven events.
The Fountain Face-Off
This competition will literally happen on the Fountains of Bellagio. The eight participants will travel by boat to a “rink” set up in the fountain, where they’ll shoot five pucks as quickly as possible at five targets.
Qualifying players will advance to the final, where a breeze of fountain spray is set to swirl and make things extra difficult for the competitors.
Added bonus: This event will feature three-time Olympic medalist Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson as one of the shooters.
The field: Jordan Eberle, Seattle; Claude Giroux, Philadelphia; Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida; Roman Josi, Nashville; Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson; Mark Stone, Vegas; Nick Suzuki, Montreal; Zach Werenski, Columbus
The favorite: In this first-ever event, bet on second-time All-Star Huberdeau to flex his muscle.
21 in ’22
From the Fountains to the Strip! Because who wouldn’t want to play street hockey on Las Vegas Boulevard, especially when there’s a blackjack theme?
Five participants will face a full deck of oversized cards set up in a rack formation. The shooters’ objective, just like on the blackjack tables, will be to reach 21 without going over — and do it in the fewest number of shots. Each round is won by the first player to nail 21, or whoever has the highest hand. The first player to win two rounds takes the pot.
The favorite: Count on Kadri and Matthews to have the inside track here — and bet on Matthews to hit the jackpot.
A classic. Eight players will take one — and only one — timed lap around T-Mobile Arena, and each participant can choose what direction to skate in. From a standing start that’s no more than three feet behind the designated line, skaters take off on the ref’s whistle. Fastest time wins.
The last winner of this event was New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal, who was not selected to All-Star weekend this time around. So a new champion will be crowned. Past winners in this year’s field are Connor McDavid (a three-peater from 2017-19) and Dylan Larkin (2016).
The field: Kyle Connor, Winnipeg; Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles; Chris Kreider, New York Rangers; Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington; Jordan Kyrou, St. Louis; Dylan Larkin, Detroit; Cale Makar, Colorado; Connor McDavid, Edmonton
The favorite: This will be McDavid’s event to lose (see credentials above). But if anyone can top the Oilers’ captain, our money is on Larkin or Connor.
Here’s where we get everyone involved. Four goalies vs. 36 players. Who comes out on top?
Each netminder will face every shooter from an opposing division. Players will fire on net in numerical order — lowest to highest — with the division captain going last. If the goalie saves the captain’s shot, then he continues to face pucks until a goal is scored (the round must end on a goal, not a save).
The goalie who produces the longest streak of saves wins. If there’s a tie in streak length, the winner will be decided by number of saves made. And if still another tiebreaker is needed, we get sudden-death “goalie goals,” which sounds rather entertaining.