ST. LOUIS (AP) - Hilary Knight stood among the NHL’s best players and felt a little intimidated by the challenge in front of her.
At the time, she was in the glare of the spotlight shooting pucks from the stands at targets on the ice as part of one of the newest events at the All-Star Skills Competition. Of course, Knight and some of the best women’s hockey players were in the spotlight all Friday night with their 3-on-3 game standing out as the highlight of the festivities.
“To be able to make history tonight and have a lot of fun doing it is a dream come true,” Knight said. “It was a great opportunity for everyone, a great opportunity for fans who aren’t introduced to women in the sport and also that young girl who is looking at the TV and can now see a women’s hockey player and aspire to be that.”
The U.S.-Canada women’s 3-on-3 and the mix of hockey and Top Golf spiced up the skills competition by showcasing the kind of offensive skill that has become the norm in the sport.
Eight NHL All-Stars, Knight and Canadian women’s captain Marie-Philip Poulin from a platform behind one of the nets took aim at targets on the ice. It was something different and entertaining, if not a little awkward.
“We were elevated pretty high,” Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner said. “It was just a weird feeling. You don’t really know how much power to put into it or anything.”
A subject of booing from Blues fans all night, Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane beat Marner and St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly to win the “shooting stars” event. It got mixed reviews even from the first champion.
“It was fun to win it,” Kane said. “I think I’m a fan of kind of the original skills stuff. … But I understand where they’re trying to go with it where they’re trying to create some different events.”
The women’s 3-on-3 was a smashing success as a new event. Canada beat the U.S 2-1 as Rebecca Johnston and Melodie Daoust silenced “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants with a goal apiece, and Ann Renee Desbiens was the biggest star with 18 saves.
The sellout crowd of 18,069 was engaged for all 20 minutes of the exhibition, which was full of breakaways and terrific goaltending.
“I think this shows how great of hockey players we are,” U.S. forward Kendall Coyne Schofield said. “You could see the skill, you could see the puck movement, the speed, etc. and for the NHL to allow us to have this platform to play the game we know we can play in front of so many people, it really shows the strides that this game is making and we’re making it together and collectively.”
In the first event of the night, New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal ended Connor McDavid’s three-year reign as winner of the fastest skater competition. At 13.175 seconds, Barzal finished four-hundredths of a second ahead of McDavid and narrowly missed breaking the record set by Dylan Larkin in 2016.
“I told Connor when we were just talking that I couldn’t have skated a better lap,” Barzal said. “I don’t know if I could do it again.”
Hometown hero Jordan Binnington made another memory in the save streak event among all eight goaltenders. The St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup winning goalie stopped 10 shots in a row to win it.
He probably didn’t expect what was coming from Tomas Hertl. The San Jose Sharks forward donned a Justin Bieber mask for his attempt - which Binnington stopped - weeks after Binnington challenged the Canadian singer to a breakaway competition.
“(Bieber) probably watches, so hopefully he won’t be mad at me I don’t score on him,” Hertl said.
Given how locked in Binnington was, he probably would’ve stopped Bieber himself. Binnington would still like to face Bieber.
“I expected more out of Biebs today,” Binnington said. “But he’s going to go back to the drawing board probably and prepare and we’ll see what he has.”
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin won the accuracy shooting competition with a time of 9.505 seconds that set a new record since the league went to five targets in 2012. Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber blew away the hardest shot field with a 106.5 mph blast.
“The other guys shot it pretty hard and I wanted to shoot it a little bit harder,” Weber said.
Defending champion John Carlson didn’t believe he had a chance to win even after shooting it 104.5 mph, saying, “I think I knew all along that we were all just a part of the show.”
The show had a very St. Louis flair with cameo appearances from a handful of former Blues players. Wayne Gretzky took the microphone to open the festivities, Bernie Federko passed the puck to current Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo for some accuracy shooting practice and seven-time hardest shot champion Al MacInnis took one more shot with his old wooden stick.
During the shooting stars event with St. Louis native brothers Matthew and Brady Tkachuk, dad Keith made an appearance on the platform with his sons. Matthew took off his Calgary Flames jersey and took his shots wearing a robin’s egg blue Yadier Molina Cardinals jersey.
Then, as a fitting nightcap, Blues great Brett Hull took his own shot at the targets on the ice.
“It would’ve been good to see Hully take more than one shot,” Binnington said. “When he’s got a lot of friends in town, that might be all he has in him.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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