EDMONTON - In hindsight, the annual skills competition couldn’t have come at a better time for the Edmonton Oilers.
Still reeling from a dreadful performance the night before, the annual event gave the club a chance to have fun again and connect with a fan base that still adored them and didn’t think they were a bunch of losers.
“Not to get too philosophical, but they’re playing a game and they’re well-paid athletes and proud people and they should exhibit that in front of people whenever they can,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “They have to make sure they stay connected with their fans in good times and bad. It’s always nice to be able to walk in there when you’re at the top on the heap, be out there and touch people, but you better be able to do it when times are tough, too. That is the ultimate message of what type of a pro you are.”
All thoughts of an embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks Friday were dashed as the Oilers took part in their skills event Saturday.
The players were enjoying themselves too much with family members in tow to worry about the previous game.
“It wasn’t fun (Friday) night, so this was probably the perfect thing for today,” said Andy Sutton, who took the hardest-shot title. “We can decompress a little and enjoy ourselves. It puts things into perspective when you hear those fans screaming for something as simple as a skills competition. That’s a lot of fun.”
This year’s event, attended by roughly by over 7,000 fans, featured a few surprise results.
Along with Sutton claiming the hardest shot, Ben Eager won the fastest skater competition, while Theo Peckham was best in the shootout competition.
“I don’t expect to be called in a shootout now,” smiled Peckham. “Even in practice I’m terrible. I don’t know what happened, I guess I got lucky a couple of times.
“This actually comes at a perfect time, especially the way we left the building (Friday) night. You never as the home team want to come out with a performance like that. It’s good to get back in touch with the fans and get that happy energetic feeling in the rink.”
For those keeping score, Team Blue defeated Team White 22-13 to take the competition. Team blue was bolstered by Eager, who edged out Hall to take the fastest skater crown.
“It was cool, this is the first time I’ve done anything like this,” said Eager. “It was nice for the fans, we’re struggling a little bit this year, but they’re still showing their support and it’s nice to be able to show them a good time.
“We were able to get our minds away from the game a little bit and have some fun.”
The event also revealed some hidden talents.
Sutton, for example, blew everyone away with a shot registering at 165 km/h (102 m.p.h.). It made some wonder why the Oilers veteran is not manning the point on the power play.
“I had nine power-play goals one year, but who’s counting,” smiled Sutton. “I haven’t seen a sniff since, so I don’t know what happened?”