All-Star Weekend Kicks Off With Skills Competition

HARTFORD (AP) – All-Star weekend for the T80HL got underway Saturday evening before a capacity crowd at the Hartford Civic Center with the skills competition. Fans got to see some of the league’s elite players showcase their skills and put on a show to make things entertaining ahead of Sunday’s trio of exhibition contests between the Wales and Campbell Conference All-Star teams.

All in all, it was a showcase for the Wales Conference, who rolled to an 11-4 victory in the skills competition. The Wales got off to a strong start as they won the puck control relay by rallying late in the race. After Vancouver’s Wayne Gretzky staked the Campbell to an advantage in the first leg of the race, Paul Coffey of the hometown Whalers outclassed Detroit’s Phil Housley and hit the line with a two-foot advantage heading into the final leg. The Rangers’ Mark Messier outskated Toronto’s Jari Kurri in the final leg to give the edge to the Wales Conference. In the individual race, Washington’s Mike Gartner outskated Detroit’s Steve Yzerman to give the nod to the Wales once again.

The fastest skater competition was back and it was Gartner, along with Coffey and Montreal’s Mats Naslund, blitzing their way to a win for the Wales. They bested the trio of Edmonton’s Glenn Anderson, Minnesota’s Brian Bellows and Yzerman. Coffey and Gartner tied for the fastest lap as both men blazed to a 13.763-second lap. All told, the Wales’ team average of 13.905 seconds was a shade better than the Campbell’s 14.031-second average.

The hardest shot competition was next with each team having four skaters teeing the puck up to hammer their fastest shot on goal. Five of the eight skaters cracked the century mark in miles per hour for the competition with Boston’s Ray Bourque leading the way with a 104.2 mile per hour blast. That helped the Wales earn the edge as they averaged nearly three miles an hour faster than the Campbell in the contest.

The Rapid Fire competition was next with three pairs of shooters testing the mettle of the goaltenders. Each pair fired 10 shots on one of the three goaltenders in the mix. The Campbell Conference got off to a shaky start as the combination of Washington’s Doug Gilmour and the Islanders’ Mike Bossy torched Minnesota netminder Don Beaupre for six goals on their 10 shots. Though Calgary’s Mike Vernon and Vancouver’s Clint Malarchuk did their best to keep the Campbell in it, the trio of Wales Conference goaltenders (the Islanders’ Grant Fuhr, the Bruins’ Andy Moog and the Rangers’ John Vanbiesbrouck) proved to be too much to handle.

The accuracy shooting competition is where the Campbell shined the most. Gretzky and Kurri both needed just four shots to obliterate the four targets, as did Bossy for the Wales Conference. The other competitors (Gilmour, Gartner and Messier for the Wales along with Lemieux and the Kings’ Luc Robitaille for the Campbell) battled but in the end, the Campbell Conference snipers were enough to come up with the victory. That led into the breakaway relay, where each goaltender faced a group of six skaters on breakaways. Each team dented the twine six times in their 18 attempts with Vanbiesbrouck turning in the best showing by stopping five of the six shooters.

The competition ended with a bit of a comedy routine as the goalies all had opportunities to try and hit the empty net. Unfortunately, all they managed to do was create plenty of laughs for the fans and the other members of their respective teams as none of the six managed to dent the twine, leaving Billy Smith of the Islanders as the last goaltender to be credited with a goal, which happened when the Colorado Rockies back passed the puck into their own net in a game on November 28, 1979.

Next on the schedule is the trio of All-Star Games on Sunday, May 16 so tune in for more action. Details of the skills competition can be found below.

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