NHL teams reaping rewards from great Skelleftea raid of ’14

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Skelleftea IK is a Swedish league team playing in a small city of around 32,000 people — in a rink that holds just 6,000 — yet its impact on the NHL this year has been fairly large.

After winning its second consecutive SHL championship last season, Skelleftea became a virtual IKEA for general managers both in North America and abroad. Three of its key players were signed by NHL clubs — Melker Karlsson with San Jose, Joakim Lindstrom with St. Louis, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with Philly — while Nashville brought over d-man Johan Alm to play with AHL Milwaukee (and also selected his Skelleftea teammate, Viktor Arvidsson, at the ’14 Entry Draft).

Currently, it’s Karlsson stealing the headlines. He’s scored five goals in his last five games — tying a Sharks record for a rookie (with Jeff Friesen) — and now has 10 points through his first 14 games in the NHL.

“He’s a little bit older, and I think you can see his maturity level may be beyond some of the others we’ve called up in the past,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, per the Mercury News. “Sometimes it takes young players awhile to understand that they really do belong here, to give themselves permission.

“Not with Melker. He just goes and plays. His panic point is very low. His self-confidence in his own belief system is very high.”

Bellemare’s poise and hockey sense have won him similar accolades in Philly. He’s appeared in 42 of 43 games this season, scoring four goals and seven points, while emerging as a good penalty killer and one of the team’s most dogged competitors.

“He’s a hard worker,” Flyers head coach Craig Berube said, per The Sporting News. “He’s a hard-working guy.”

Lindstrom, who’s in his second NHL go-round — he spent time in Columbus, Phoenix and Colorado prior to his three-year excursion to Sweden — has experienced ups and downs in St. Louis. He has three goals and six points in 28 games, but has been parked recently as a healthy scratch. That said, bench boss Ken Hitchcock said the club is cognizant of Lindstrom’s abilities, adding the 31-year-old Swede should draw back in soon.

“[Lindstrom] seems to have really risen his level,” he explained. “I think we have a new appreciation having worked with him how smart he is defensively. I think he’s going to take advantage of the next situation because he’s got his wind back again.”

It’s worth noting that NHL clubs weren’t the only ones raiding the Skelleftea cupboard last summer. Jimmie Ericsson — brother of Red Wings d-man Jonathan — signed with KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg while another forward, former Kings draftee Bud Holloway, was nabbed by Swiss league outfit SC Bern.

2020 NHL All-Star Skills: Winners, fun moments, Hertl as Bieber

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All-Star Skills competitions bring about memorable moments in plenty of years. Yet, when Tomas Hertl donned a Justin Bieber mask, fans received something truly unusual: nightmare fuel.

Luckily, that (honestly chilling) vision was just one memorable image from the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills competition. Let’s go over the events, winners, and other fun stuff.

Keeping the St. Louis (and surrounding areas) faithful happy

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Ryan O'Reilly rocked a Chiefs helmet during warm-ups, while Jordan Binnington also supported the Super Bowl-bound team. The Chiefs did the Blues a solid during their Stanley Cup run, so why not pay it forward? Most importantly: it looked funny.

Matthew Tkachuk also went for a cheap pop from the St. Louis crowd by taking off his jersey to reveal St. Louis Cardinals garb during the Shooting Stars competition.

The greatest fan service came during appearances by big names of old. Wayne Gretzky — announced, accurately if amusingly, as a former Blue — really kicked things off. Brett Hull took a shot during the Shooting Stars event, and Keith Tkachuk also joined in alongside Matthew and Brady Tkachuk.

Personally, though, the best moment of all of those cameos came when Al MacInnis showed that he could still provide one of the hardest shots of any human.

Dude is 56. Allegedly.

Shea Weber ended up reclaiming his Hardest Shot title, while Patrick Kane won Shooting Stars.

Hertl wears the Bieber mask, creates nightmare fuel

As great as Hertl was at playing off of Jordan Binnington’s feud/friendly wager with Jordan Binnington (the Blues can fill you in on that), the actual execution of the mask makes me think of Michael Myers. You know, the creepy-masked slasher movie villain guilty of untold fictional executions in the “Halloween” series.

It’s still funny stuff, so enjoy the video above. Just maybe don’t let those images of Hertl as Bieber sink into your soul.

*Shudders*

Hertl explained after the Skills competition that the mask slipped, which made it difficult for him to put a decent shot on Binnington. That slip might also explain why it made it look like Bieber was the face for the rebooted “Shape,” which would make Bieber the next William Shatner.

Anyway, Binnington made that save, and also made the St. Louis crowd happy by winning save relay with 10 saves.

Binnington also got to chirp “Biebs,” saying he expected more. Nicely done.

Who won 2020 NHL All-Star Skills events, including Elite Women’s 3-on-3

So, the strangeness was mostly contained in those moments above. Granted, the Shooting Stars seems like it needs some fine-tuning, and I personally prefer styrofoam or otherwise breakable targets to the digital ones in this year’s accuracy competition.

But beyond those quibbles, the rest of the action was straightforward enough that we can breeze through the winners in one convenient spot.

Winners of Elite 3-on-3 Women’s Hockey: Canada 2-1

Hardest Shot: Shea Weber (106.5 mph)

Fastest Skater: Mathew Barzal (13.175 seconds) upset Connor McDavid (13.215)

Accuracy Shooting: Jaccob Slavin (9.505 seconds)

Save Streak: Jordan Binnington (10 saves)

Shooting Stars: Patrick Kane (22, then 2 in tiebreaker)

Itching for more All-Star Skills fun? Check out the 2019 edition.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Patrick Kane beats Mitch Marner in tiebreaker to win first Shooting Stars event

Patrick Kane Shooting Stars
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To jeers from the St. Louis faithful, Patrick Kane won the first rendition of the “Shooting Stars” competition at the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Event.

Now, the crowd wasn’t booing just because Kane plays for the Blues’ rival Blackhawks in the Central Division. Some might have been grumbling because of some rules confusion. In particular, shooters going for 10 points often felt like they hit the mark, only to realize that they were foiled by the arc. That happened most dramatically when Mitch Marner thought he hit 10 during the tiebreaker round against Kane (and Ryan O'Reilly?). Once it was clear Marner got nothing, Kane pulled off the equivalent to getting a field goal to win in NFL overtime.

Shooting Stars brings some fun. It also is the sort of activity where you can get a pop from the crowd by bringing in retired stars. The audience received two such treats, as Keith Tkachuk joined his ragamuffin sons Brady and Matthew Tkachuk for an attempt. Brett Hull also took to the stage on behest of Ryan O’Reilly.

People worked the crowd beyond that. As often as Matthew Tkachuk plays the role of pro wrestling villain, he drew some easy cheers by showing off a Cardinals jersey. (To be fair, Matthew spent plenty of time in the area, so he might be a “shoot” Cardinals fan, to use pro wrestling parlance.)

So … maybe this one needs some fine-tuning, but it was really fun, including strong showings from Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight. Hockey combining Dude Perfect trick shot videos with Skee-Ball seems like a winner. Now they just need to print out tickets so people can earn worthless nicknacks.

Results

Patrick Kane – 22, “2” in tiebreaker

Mitch Marner – 22, narrowly missed 10 in tiebreaker
Matthew Tkachuk – 20
Marie-Philip Poulin – 15
Hilary Knight – 14
Ryan O’Reilly – 14
David Perron – 14
Tyler Seguin – 14
David Pastrnak – 10
Brady Tkachuk – 6

Shea Weber reclaims NHL Hardest Shot title

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ST. LOUIS — Shea Weber won the 2020 Hardest Shot title with a slap shot of 106.5 mph during Friday’s NHL All-Star Skills event.

“I think I knew all along that we were all just a part of the show,” said defending champion John Carlson, who finished second with a 104.5 mph shot, about going up against Weber.

The Montreal Canadiens captain won the event three straight times from 2015-2017 but did not participate the last two years. Weber topped the field of six players, which also included Elias Pettersson, Mark Giordano, Seth Jones, and Victor Hedman, with a 105.9 mph first shot.

Weber then topped his first attempt with the 106.5 mph blast.

Weber’s two best results in his Hardest Shot career remain the 108.5 mph from 2015 and the 108.1 mph the following year in Nashville.

Before the event got under way Blues legend and seven-time Hardest Shot champion Al MacInnis stepped on the ice, wood stick and all, and blasted one 100.4 mph. That shot tied his best result from the 1998 event, which he won.

FINAL RESULTS
Shea Weber 106.5 (winner)
John Carlson 104.5
Elias Pettersson 102.4
Mark Giordano 102.1
Victor Hedman 102.1
Seth Jones 98.8

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canada edges U.S. in entertaining debut of Elite Women’s 3-on-3

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Canada’s All-Stars beat the U.S. 2-1 in a strong debut for the Elite Women’s 3-on-3 event. The two teams provided a spirited game as part of Friday’s 2020 NHL All-Star Skills event.

Rebecca Johnston scored the lone goal of the first period to give Canada an early lead. Johnston scored just 1:20 into the contest:

Mélodie Daoust fattened Canada’s lead to 2-0 during the second period, a tally that would end up being the game-winner:

The U.S. didn’t just roll over, however. They pressed to get back into that game, with Hilary Knight scoring a nice one to make it 2-1.

”To be able to make history tonight and have a lot of fun doing it is a dream come true,” Knight said. ”It was a great opportunity for everyone, a great opportunity for fans who aren’t introduced to women in the sport and also that young girl who is looking at the TV and can now see a women’s hockey player and aspire to be that.”

”I think this shows how great of hockey players we are,” U.S. forward Kendall Coyne Schofield said. ”You could see the skill, you could see the puck movement, the speed, etc. and for the NHL to allow us to have this platform to play the game we know we can play in front of so many people, it really shows the strides that this game is making and we’re making it together and collectively.”

Both teams played a strong, competitive game, and saluted fans after the contest. You could argue that Ann-Renee Desbiens deserves the unofficial MVP, as the goalie made 18 saves.

Here are the full rosters and coaches from that great game. Hopefully this becomes a regular part of all future All-Star Games, not unlike the accuracy shooting and hardest shot competitions.

American All-Stars (Coach: Cammi Granato)
F Alex Carpenter
F Kendall Coyne Schofield
F Brianna Decker
F Amanda Kessel
F Hilary Knight
F Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson
F Annie Pankowski
D Kacey Bellamy
D Lee Stecklein
G Alex Rigsby Cavallini

Canadian All-Stars (Coach: Jayna Hefford)
F Meghan Agosta
F Mélodie Daoust
F Rebecca Johnston
F Sarah Nurse
F Marie-Philip Poulin
F Natalie Spooner
F Blayre Turnbull
D Renata Fast
D Laura Fortino
G Ann-Renée Desbiens

Referees Kelly Cooke and Katie Guay and lineswomen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh officiated the game.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).