The whole point of Super Skills is to show off. The NWHL managed that and more, with a few suspenseful moments, in Team Kessel's victory over Team Steadman in the skills competition portion of the All-Star Weekend at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, PA.
This was a warm-up to what is sure to be a raucous sellout crowd tomorrow. The afternoon showcased the talents of the NWHL's players in five events:
- Fastest Skater (plus Fastest Goalie)
- Shooting Accuracy
- Breakaway Challenge
- Hardest Shot
- Shootout Challenge
Winning each event would count as one point, and the final score after today's event will be the starting score in tomorrow's All-Star Game.
Rebecca Russo became the fastest player in the NWHL, clocking a speed of 12.75 seconds to skate to both goal lines and back to center. Nicole Stock became the fastest overall goalie, accomplishing the task in 17.44 seconds. Team Kessel won 3 of 5 head-to-head races and captured the point.
In the shooting accuracy competition, players had to hit targets in four corners of the net in the fastest possible time, shooting from between the circles. Hilary Knight stunned the crowd with her quick release, hitting all four targets in 14.1 seconds. Kelley Steadman, however, attempted next and beat her by a tenth of a second, with a time of 14.0. So count that as a win for Team Steadman.
Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy, and Amanda Kessel competed against Kelly Babstock, Madison Packer, and Brianna Decker in the breakaway challenge, which would be determined by fan vote via Twitter hashtag, leaving one crucial point up in the air until the end of the day.
The hardest shot competition featured Courtney Burke, Zoe Hickel, and Megan Bozek for Team Kessel; and Blake Bolden, Ashley Johnston, and Kaleigh Fratkin for Team Steadman. Last year's record holder with an 88mph slapshot, Megan Bozek, topped out at just 83mph this year. This year's hardest shot, at 87mph, would belong to Bolden, giving Team Steadman the point and putting them up 2-1.
In the shootout challenge, every player from each team participated, and the team that scored the most one-on-one goals against the other team's goalies would receive the point. Each player would only get one shot. Team Kessel managed to pull out two goals to Team Steadman's single goal, so with the fan vote waiting to be determined, the teams were tied at 2-2.
When the votes came in, though, Gigi Marvin with Team Kessel had the most loved shootout moves. Team Kessel eked a win out in the Super Skills and will begin tomorrow's All-Star Game with three goals on the board. While Team Steadman will have a small mountain to climb, it's hardly insurmountable -- the competition will be tight for supreme All-Star Honors.
A theme throughout the day's pressers was that the ASG is about having fun and being friends -- with your teammates you've known for years, with someone you used to think you didn't like, and with people you are just getting to know for the first time. Also, that the best thing an you can do in the face of uncertainty is to keep working. Today, though, these didn't just seem like typical athletes' postgame platitudes. All in attendance seemed to genuinely have a wonderful time while highlighting the finer skills involved in making women's hockey an exciting and unique sport. As the league heads into the final stretch of its shortened season, and its last before Olympic centralization begins for 2018, there is a lot that is uncertain -- not just in women's hockey, but in the world. It's important to remember to stop and have fun sometimes.
The teams had fun today, but tomorrow they fight: there will be two 25-minute periods in tomorrow's All-Star Game, which begins at 3PM Eastern in Cranberry.