RALEIGH, N.C. -- When it comes to big booming shots, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara proves that Big Z stands for ztrong. Very ztrong.
At the 2009 All-Star weekend in Montreal, he broke Al Iafrate's 16-year-old record with a scorching 105.4-mph shot. Two years later, Chara pushed speed limits again, clocking in a 105.9-mph slapshot at the SuperSkills event at the RBC Center on Saturday night. It was the highlight of a revamped show, which included two completely new events and several additions to old favorites, providing fans nearly three hours of fancy skating, shooting, passing, falling -- and plenty of standing around. (Truth be told, two hours really would've sufficed.)
In the end, though, Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal led his All-Stars to a resounding win over Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom's team in the prelude to Sunday's 58th NHL All-Star Game. But this weekend isn't really about winners (Have you heard the reception for Carolina Hurricanes rookie Jeff Skinner? It approaches Bieber proportions) or losers (last-man-standing Phil Kessel). It's all about the show, about getting the fans out of their seats, which they did for Chara, that massive tower of power. The 6-foot-9 defenseman, now three-time reigning champion of the Hardest Shot contest, got a standing ovation from the crowd for his record breaker, his first of the final round and third attempt overall.
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After Chara's first two attempts in the preliminary round, measly 104.1- and 103.7-mph efforts, some may have thought about crowning a new master blaster in Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber, who registered speeds of 104.6 mph and 104.8 mph in preliminaries. But in the final, when the two big guns met again, it came together for Big Z.
"Right away when I skated into it, I knew I was getting a good flow and coming with good speed," Chara said. "As soon as I took the swing, I felt that this is good and ... I just have to place it well. Once I turned and saw it was 105.9 mph, I realized it was almost perfect. The first two times, I was trying even harder than my third one, but sometimes, you try so hard, it's not going perfectly because of whatever -- you're standing there, you're cold or trying to get the flow [going]."
Iafrate's record of 105.2 mph stood for 16 years before Chara took it down ... twice ... and in the last two SuperSkills competitions. It begs the question of just how far the record can be pushed in the future.
"The limit's always going to get pushed," Chara says. "It's just the nature of the business. Records are meant to be broken. ... Who knows? It could go all the way to 110 mph. It's really the technology of the sticks and players getting stronger and bigger. The record could be pushed anywhere."
And Chara will always be one of those pushing it. "He's a driven and focused guy," said Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin, who also took part in the Hardest Shot and put up a respectable 97.1. "It's not like that power came to him overnight. He's worked hard for that."
Can the 18-year-old forward imagine what it'd be like to launch one at 105.9 mph?
"Yeah, it's called a dream because it's never happening [for me]," Seguin said.
There were plenty of other highlights from the night's events. A quick rundown of the five most memorable:
1.P.K. Subban as Jeff Skinner: The Canadiens rookie defenseman found a way to get a visiting crowd behind him. The first skater out to take part in the Breakaway Challenge, Subban skated to center ice in hometown favorite Skinner's sweater, and the Carolina crowd raucously approved. On Subban, who is 6 feet and 202 pounds, Skinner's jersey was snug. The 18-year-old Carolina center, the youngest All-Star of all time, is generously listed as 5-11 and 193 pounds. "It was a tight fit," Subban said. "Maybe I have to shed a few pounds." Subban, however, can't take the credit for idea himself. That was courtesy of San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. "I told him he should switch jerseys [with Skinner] for his last shot, but he decided to do it from the first," Boyle said.
2. Alex Ovechkin, Breakaway champ: A fan text-in vote determined that the Capitals star retained his crown in the evening's flashiest event. Ovechkins said later that he didn't think he would win, and truthfully, he probably shouldn't have. If it were up to judges, there's no doubt the new champion would be Ducks forward Corey Perry. He was outright robbed. On his first run, Perry picked up the puck on the blade of his stick and cradled it high like a lacrosse attack as he skated toward the goal. He missed the net with the lacrosse-style shot, but still, that was by far the most impressive move of the night. The close second wasn't even Ovechkin. It was the Kings' Anze Kopitar, who had a few nifty moves including a cradle-style shot that started between his legs.
3. Tim Thomas, always a good scrambler: Added to the Fastest Skater competition were categories for goalies and backwards skaters. While Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and Duncan Keith proved quite adept at backing up, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas had trouble staying on his feet. He wiped out at the turn behind the net, but recovered quite nicely. How typical of the 36-year-old netminder.
4. Rookie move, sophomore Matt Duchene: The Avalanche forward, who had agreed to be mic'd up for the Versus telecast, was caught saying something about all the vodka he had last night catching up to him after his run at the Fastest Skater title. The walls don't have to have ears if you're wearing a mic.
5. The Skills Challenge Relay: The two new additions to the program were met with mixed reception. The relay, which included everything from accuracy shooting and passing to stickhandling and skating, was interesting to watch -- at least in person. And the pinpoint perfection required for these tasks can really be appreciated from the stands. The Elimination Shootout, however, was a little less impressive. For one, it seemed to go on excessively long, and after the flashiness of the Breakaway Challenge, it lost some luster. Perhaps a shorter list of shooters would be advised in the future -- if this one is to stay at all, that is.