SUN Hockey Pool

You could feel the love

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

The travelling crew that has produced the skills competition around the NHL for the last 18 years said they'd never seen a faster time produced than the 13.1 seconds it took Erik Cole to skate around Rexall Place yesterday.

But Cole was more impressed with the scene.

"They certainly don't do this in Carolina. I don't think anyone would show up," the former Hurricane said.

"To see this building full with lots of excitement for this ... it's amazing."

What made it special was that the sellout crowd gave the players the kind of unconditional love they don't otherwise get from crowds of critical customers in a city that specializes in tough love for its shinny stars.

Predominantly made up of kids who don't otherwise get to see their hometown hockey heroes live and in the flesh any other day of the year, much less with them not wearing their helmets, these fans may have provided what Cole and his teammates need as much as anything right now.

It was likewise a special experience for Lubomir Visnovsky, who has had a wonderful week of exceptional experiences, having become a new father of Team Canada-eligible ("He'll play for Slovakia!") Maxime Luc Visnovsky on New Year's Day.

"They only held something like this one time in Los Angeles and there were only a couple hundred of people," said the former King.

"It's incredible. It's like reading pages and pages of coverage in the newspapers and driving listening to radio in your car listening to people talk hockey, hockey, hockey. It's just another great thing to experience playing in Canada," said Visnovsky.

"It was a real good day. The fans were awesome," said Sheldon Souray. "A day like today is one of the joys of playing for a Canadian team.

"We put so much pressure on ourselves and there is so much added pressure from the fans and the media, it's nice to have a day with an arena full of kids who laugh when you make a mistake instead of booing you," he said.

"I felt like a little kid out there," said rookie Steve MacIntyre. "It was so much fun to go out there and fool around in front of 17,000 fans. I think I had more fun than all those kids did."

Sam Gagner said this event, right now, is probably a better thing here than anywhere else because there are so many young players on the team.

"For us, it's like switching places with the fans. It wasn't that long ago we were those kids in the stands. It feels pretty good, when you're looking at it like that, to put on this show for them."

Marc Pouliot was in the minor leagues at this time last year. This was a first for him. "I didn't expect a full house," he said of the scene. "I had a great time."

It was more than that. The players gave themselves a pretty good reminder of the skills this young team has in abundance.

Not only did Cole set the record with a 13.1-second trip around the rink, Souray broke Chad Kilger's NHL hardest shot record of 106.6 with his blast of 106.7 and Pouliot went a perfect four-for-four in the shooting accuracy competition.

Cole, coming off his best game of the season the night before, did more to endear himself to Edmonton fans in a span of 18 hours than in his first 18 weeks as an Oiler.

While most were expecting Andrew Cogliano to win the speed contest, Cole not only won it, he collected a wager with his second-year Oiler teammate in the process.

"Cogs and I had a little side bet," said the so-called power forward adding, "Cogs was complaining that he took a shot off the foot last night. If he'd been healthy, he'd have gone a lot faster."

Cole said he was surprised that he put up a number that became the new standard for this sort of thing.

"That was not any faster than I skate in a game," he said.

The fastest player and player with the hardest shot now reside in the same corner of the dressing room thanks to a "trade" the players pulled off to move Cole to a different stall in in late December.

"We had to lead him to water to make him drink," said Souray, who beat his previous best, a 103.3 mph shot in Montreal.

Dustin Penner (100.8), Visnovski (99.4) and MacIntyre (98.6) also put up impressive numbers.

Last year the Oilers became the first NHL team to have all six skaters in the event under 14 seconds -- the same year the Toronto Maple Leafs had none.

This year the Oilers had five out of six, with Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, Robert Nilsson, and Liam Reddox also turning the trick.

If there was a Stanley Cup for skills competitions, the Edmonton Oilers might win it.


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