EDMONTON - Some would point out a certain irony in hosting a skills event for a 29th-placed team.
Yet for the Edmonton Oilers, getting a chance to unwind and have fun during their annual skills competition is a welcome reprieve from a long, and what has been so far, frustrating NHL season.
“It’s nice to go out there and have fun with it,” said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. “I think, if anyone has seen the skills competition, it’s a day when you can go out there and be loose have fun and just play hockey.
“It’s good for us, especially going through a stretch like this, it’s good for us to go out there and have some fun.”
Approximately 10,000 fans came out to watch the Oilers determine, among other things, their fastest skater, hardest shooter and most accurate marksman.
The event got underway with a puck-control relay and wrapped up with a three-on-three scrimmage. Between them, many wagers were won and lost on the results of the various competitions.
“It was awesome, you see how incredible this city is as a hockey city,” said Taylor Chorney, who won the fastest skater event and was then quickly shipped off to Oklahoma City to make room for Jim Vandermeer’s return from an ankle injury.
“The place was rocking, it was pretty much like a home game and goes to show how much people love hockey, and as a player, it’s unbelievable to see that kind of support.”
Chorney beat out Cogliano, who was the favourite going into the event. But Cogliano slipped on the second turn, taking himself out of contention. He did, however, go on to take the shootout title.
“No one picked me for King of the Shootout, but I was able to win it,” smiled Cogliano, who won the fastest skater event at the all-star game two years ago. “I don’t know what it is with the fastest skater, but I can’t win it here. But there was some stiff competition. I don’t think I would have picked Chorney, I would have picked Magnus (Paajarvi) to win it, he was going pretty quick, but I think he said that he hit a little rut.”
For many Oilers, it was the first time taking part in a skills competition as not every team in the league hosts such an event.
For those keeping score, Team White edged Team Orange 22-20 to win the competition. Along the way, Kurtis Foster had the hardest shot, while Tom Gilbert was the most accurate shooter.
“When Penner was put into the hardest shot event late, I got a little nervous, because I watch him in practice every day and he’s got a bomb,” said Foster. “When he put up 100, I was relieved, because I knew I could put up a little better. I was glad I was able to put up 103.
“It’s a great event, I’ve never been part of something like this before. It was good to see a lot of kids with jerseys on and people that were really happy to be here. It was nice to see everybody here.”
Foster was the odds-on favourite to have the hardest shot heading into the event. Trying to tilt the odds in his favour, J.F. Jacques used one of Sheldon Souray’s old sticks, but missed the net on his first attempt and came in below the 100 plateau on his second one.
“Souray’s stick is one of the stiffest sticks you can find, (Steve) MacIntyre used it, too,” Foster said. “The blade has a hook like a nine-iron, so when he missed the first one he said he didn’t know where to shoot on it because the curve was so big and he almost missed the second time, too.”