All-Star skills competition: Did Shooting Stars pass the test?

The NHL's newest event saw players loft pucks over the crowd from a platform and there was a lot of potential revealed. But a couple tweaks could make it a staple.
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ST. LOUIS - The NHL’s newest skills event definitely provoked a lot of curiosity in the lead-up to All-Star Weekend and now that the first-ever Shooting Stars event - where players shot pucks off a platform in the crowd - is in the books, I’m going to weigh in and say the idea has future potential and could be a solid event with some minor tweaks.

The NHL definitely set things up right, with Keith Tkachuk joining sons Matthew and Brady on the platform to take a shot, and Matthew rocking a St. Louis Cardinals baseball jersey for the home crowd during his turn - but let’s stay on track and talk about the competition itself.

While the event had targets worth a variety of points spread around the ice, none of the participants aimed for the one-point baskets nearest to the platform. The most popular was the 10-point net in the middle, built in the shape of the famed St. Louis arch.

“Well, we’re all hockey players,” said Boston’s David Pastrnak. “You see 10 and that’s what you’re gonna go for.”

Fellow shooter Mitch Marner from Toronto had a similar sentiment.

“Most points wins,” he said. “There were points behind the 10, so if you missed it, you hoped it hit the four or the two, or somehow all the way in that back net.”

Based off the initial contest, the NHL could probably take away all of the targets located in the zone closest to the shooters and go from center ice and back. And while the arch was cool, they should probably have covered it, since some shooters had pucks drop in from the top, only to be told they didn’t earn points that way. I say make things as black and white as possible, but definitely keep the arch since it was so popular.

“Having the biggest target as the most points was interesting,” said Team USA’s Hilary Knight. “When we were practising the other day, hitting the closer ones was actually more difficult because you couldn’t really judge the distance as well. So going forward and going big was the strategy, it looked like.”

What certainly worked for me was the drama of the pucks flying through the air, that brief tension of where it would land and if it would be on target. It sounds like it was a good visual from ice level, too.

“It was kinda cool seeing the pucks hanging in the air,” said the Islanders’ Matt Barzal. “It was new, it was funky, it was fresh.”

At times it was tough to know if a shot that bounced off a target was a hit, but again - that’s a kink that can get worked out before next time. Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon was another observer for the event and he had an interesting suggestion.

“Maybe you could have different targets light up and you had to go for them,” he said. “But I thought it was fun. We saw the puck coming in and some really skilled players had some nice sauce.”

The fact players had different point value options was a plus for Buffalo’s Jack Eichel.

“It seemed like it was pretty hard,” he said. “I thought the event itself was pretty cool. It’s exciting for the fans, right? You’re watching someone down to one shot and they need a certain amount of points - that sort of excitement is good for the event. It was pretty unique, I hope the fans liked it.”

And there was definitely a skill element involved - it clearly wasn’t easy.

“It was tough, to be honest,” Pastrnak said. “It felt like if you just sauced it, it’s going to be too short and if you shoot it, it would be too high, so you had to find the in-between.”

There were some complaints from those watching about the puck’s visibility, though personally I had no issue and I was up in the press box. If the NHL continues with the event, there are some slight alterations available, but I’d say this event was pretty successful considering it had never been attempted before. Targets were hit and competition was stiff enough that Chicago’s Patrick Kane won the event in a sudden death extra frame over Marner. Though they may have to convince some players to take the challenge next year.

“Nah, I’d rather watch,” MacKinnon said. “It looked tough.”

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