Monday, February 28, 2011

Eyewitness Report: Canucks Superskills Competition

The annual Canucks Superskills event is a treat for Canucks fans, especially for fans who can't afford the price of admission to a regular game. The cheaper ticket price, combined with the fun atmosphere and events on the concourse, make it a great chance for parents to give their kids a closer look at their hockey heroes. It also manages to make me feel like a kid again, as I attended my second Superskills event last night. As an added bonus, all proceeds go to the Canucks For Kids Fund.

The Canucks Alumni kicked off the afternoon with a spirited contest. I love watching the alumni play: it's lighthearted fun and a great chance to see a few old favorites. I was hoping to see Cliff Ronning, my favorite Canuck of all-time, but it was not to be. Notable names, however, included Dave Babych, Chris Oddleifson, Garry Valk, and John Garrett, who dug up his classic mask, which clashed slightly with his green, blue, and white sweater. And even though he never played for the Canucks, Bill Ranford showed up, though he played as a defenseman instead of in net.

Garrett played as if a car was on the line, making save after save and hamming it up by bowing elaborately to the crowd after each ovation. Meanwhile, Valk depended on the easy-going nature of the game to get away with hook after hook, and even had the audacity to use his jersey to wipe down the linesman's visor after an offside call. At one point Valk gave Garrett a bump after the whistle, likely hoping he would slip and injure himself, freeing up the coveted Sportsnet Pacific colour commentator position for the "ex-Canuck turned analyst." The announcer warned that they were playing old-timer's rules: no running the goaltender, but that doesn't mean you can't make rude comments about his family.

The final score was 3-3, with Garrett making a classic pad-stacking saves in the final 5 seconds to preserve the tie. The unofficial three stars, compiled by my friend Ryan and myself, were as follows:

3rd Star: Dave Babych, who showcased strong defensive play in a game that was sorely lacking it and also tallied a highlight-reel goal as he jumped into the rush like he was Christian Ehrhoff and sneakily flicked the puck in shortside as he flew down the wing.

2nd Star: Chris Oddleifson, who showed he still has slick hands, sniping two goals past John Garrett and consistently looking dangerous, despite not wearing any shoulder pads.

1st Star: John "Cheech" Garrett, both for his legitimately good performance and his showmanship. The crowd loved him and it's hard to argue with the popular choice.

There was a brief break in the action at this point, highlighted by a game of musical chairs played by Fin and a gaggle of other mascots, which was clearly rigged in Fin's favor. If I was a bookie, I would be ticked, as it was clear that Bernie and S.J. Sharkie threw the match. They also showed some videos on the scoreboard, including the inaugural Canucks Scrabble Battle featuring PITB's own Harrison Mooney. We also spotted one person in the crowd wearing a Tanner Glass Scrabble Champ shirt.

In the meantime, we played Jersey Foul Bingo, created by my friend Lisa. The Bingo cards were painstakingly compiled, though they admittedly featured a number of spots that are not actually Jersey Fouls for the sake of filling out the card. For example, there's nothing wrong with wearing a jersey from a past era, but the column was filled with names such as O'Brien, Cloutier, and Carter, as well as gimmes like Bure. Actual jersey fouls on the card included jerseys from the wrong team (we spotted Blackhawks, Flyers, Penguins, and Canadiens), featuring D.I.Y. lettering, three-digit numbering, wrong/own name, and even wrong sport (we saw a football jersey, but no others). I came the closest to filling out my card, needing either a baseball jersey (saw plenty of hats), Manitoba Moose jersey, or CFL jersey. So close. We'll have to make our own Jersey Foul Bingo for our upcoming road trip.

The worst of the fouls we saw were the "B. Lo" and "Diggler" jerseys, both with 69 on the back. Classy. Also bad, but less awkward to explain to a 7-year-old attending the Superskills, was the baffling "W. Sedin" jersey with Henrik's 33. But the most audacious was the fellow who put his own name, "Sheppard," on the back of a current Canucks jersey, with the number 10 and the captain's "C" on the front. I'm sorry, but no. Not only are you not on the Canucks, you are not number 10 on the Canucks, and you are definitely not the captain of the Canucks. From where I'm sitting, which happens to be a pretty lofty perch on a rather tall horse, that is what the internet would refer to as a fail. If you happen to be reading this, please never wear it again. Instead, frame the jersey with all the numbers hidden so you can pretend it actually is a Henrik jersey.

Finally, the players themselves came out, split into Team Blue and Team Green. The four of us attending split our loyalties between the two teams so as to know for whom to cheer. My wife picked Team Blue, claiming that they appeared to be the underdogs. I noted the presence of Tambellini, Raymond, and Hansen on Team Blue, as well as Sami Salo, and quickly concluded that they already had the Fastest Skater and Hardest Shot contests in the bag and threw my support behind Team Green, the true underdogs.

The view from our seats as the teams lined up against each other.

First up was the warm-up event, a quick three-on-three game worth only 1 point in the overall competition. Ehrhoff scored the only two goals for Team Green, as they fell 4-2 to Team Blue thanks to two goals by Tambellini, including a cheeky between the legs shot to cap off the win. With that, the Canucks showed they were willing to get fancy to please the crowd.

Team Green owned the Puck Control Relay as Kesler, Malhotra, and Tanev proved faster than Hodgson, Burrows, and Ballard, mainly due to Ballard losing control of the puck on the final turn leaving Tanev free and clear. The 1-on-1 competition was Sedin vs. Sedin, as the twins eerily matched each other stride-for-stride including identical celebrations when they both thought they had won. They awarded the victory to Henrik, who further fueled Daniel's seething rage by claiming to be 5-0 in such competitions. In all honesty, it looked too close to call; the twins match each other's movements so exactly that it would not surprise me in the least if they crossed the finish line at the same time.

The Fastest Skater contest was, as suspected, no contest whatsoever. Team Blue had Raymond, Tambellini, and Hansen. Team Green had Glass, Ehrhoff, and Tanev. It wasn't even close: all three Team Blue skaters finished faster than the closest Team Green skater, Tanner Glass. Raymond took the prize with a time of 13.652, though Hansen surprised by beating Tambellini. It was Raymond's second year winning the event, leading to the most awkward moment of the event, as Dan Murphy asked if Raymond was looking forward to being back to try for the three-peat. Raymond paused and said, "I hope so," as the recent mentions of his name potentially on the trading block swam a brief lap through his head. He might not even be on the team tomorrow Murph; that's a bit of an insensitive question. The savvy Ian Walker picked up on it as well, though Raymond sloughed it off.

The downtime between events allowed for some crowd interaction, which leads me to the following two uncontroversial statements: the kid who won the Dance Cam contest is awesome and the Canucks' kids are entirely adorable. Kesler's daughter even took to the ice in her tiny skates, supported by her dad. Ehrhoff carried around his pigtailed daughter while thanking the crowd for coming out and Henrik had his son up on his shoulders at one point, carrying him around the ice. Another highlight was seeing three kids sitting side-by-side in one of the doors to the bench. Completely adorable.

The 3rd event of the afternoon was the Hardest Shot competition, with Rome and Salo participating for Team Blue and Hamhuis and Ehrhoff for Team Green. Without Edler, it seemed like Salo would have no competition and he set the bar reasonable high with a solid 101.5 mph shot. Ehrhoff came closest, with a surprising 101.1 mph shot of his own. Hamhuis topped out at 99.2 mph, with Rome tallying a respectable 96.4. What a boon to have those kinds of cannons at the point; with Edler scheduled to be back in time for the playoffs, the Canucks will have three defensemen who can shoot the puck over 100 mph.

Alex Burrows won the Accuracy competition for Team Blue, hitting four straight targets after ringing his first shot off the post. Samuelsson also went 4-for-5, necessitating a one-target playoff, which took Burrows 3 shots to hit, but was entirely missed by Samuelsson. The win put Blue up 8-4 as they entered into the final 2 contests with more points on the line.

The Power Play contest featured 3 players from one team against a defenseman and a goalie: first up was Tambellini, Burrows, and Daniel Sedin for Team Blue against Hamhuis and Luongo. They managed 2 quick goals, but some bizarre passing between Hammy and Lu prevented anymore damage as they ragged the puck around the boards. Torres, Glass, and Kesler for Team Green took on Ballard and Schneider, but could only create one goal, a beautiful forehand-backhand move by Glass, which prompted a Scrabble joke from Murph.

Hodgson, Oreskovich, and Raymond, which was actually the fourth line at the end of the Canucks' game against the Bruins, appeared next for Team Blue and took advantage of Tanev's raw rookieness to the tune of 2 goals. Henrik, Malhotra, and Samuelsson responded in kind for Team Green, netting 2 goals, though the third was on Henrik's stick with a wide-open net as time ran out. As is often the case, Henrik hung on to the puck as long as possible before releasing it. Henrik with the puck is a little like a kid nursing an injured baby bird back to health: he'll take good care of it, touch it gently, hold it close, and never want to let it go. Then he'll saucer pass it cross-ice through a maze of legs and sticks so it can be one-timed into the back of the net.

The final contest was the highlight of the event: the Breakaway Relay. A lot of the Canucks got fancy with their attempts, which didn't always result in goals but always got a big reaction from the crowd. Tambellini made like Rob Schremp with his first attempt, sweeping the puck up onto his stick then pulling off some crazy lacrosse-like moves, before attempting to sling the puck by Luongo...but the puck refused to leave his stick. Apparently the adhesive he used was a little too strong. Luongo hilariously responded by skating out and shooting away the puck for his next attempt before Tambellini could get to it.

Hamhuis then stole the show by going 2-for-2, making a case for being used in the shootout as he pulled off a Forsbergian one-hander that Schneider couldn't quite snag, then roofed his next attempt from his knees. Ballard went 1-for-2 himself, with his goal a slick backhand move as he lazily chewed some gum that he likely stole from Alain Vigneault's private stash. His second attempt was a tricky combination of a distracting glove throw and a shot before his other hand returned to his stick. He pulled it off by kicking his stick forward, a clever little move that didn't pay off as Luongo easily kicked it aside then dismissively swept Ballard's glove from the crease.

Burrows tried to get fancy, showing off some surprisingly slick moves, but Luongo stood tall. Tanner Glass tried my favorite move of the evening, as he dove out on his belly, passed the puck from his hand to his stick and tried to sweep it past Schneider. It was entirely ineffective, but it did succeed at being funny-looking, so the crowd loved it. Raffi Torres proceeded to flip out: being funny-looking is my gig, get a new bit. Raymond and Daniel followed up by each going 1-for-2, though Daniel benefited from Luongo taking himself out for a spin and a backwards somersault. Pro-tip, kids: don't do that in a game.

After Samuelsson went 1-for-2, Kesler had his initial attempt stopped, prompting him to take a page from Ballard's book and attempt to distract Schneider by throwing his glove. But, instead of a friendly toss in the air, Kesler aggressively chucked it right at Schneider's logo before wristing the puck off the post and in. Now Kesler, what would your daughter say about that?

All that remained was tallying the final score. Team Blue, who definitely were not underdogs, finished with the victory, 16-14. And all that was left for us was to pick up our free Canucks window clings, eat our free yogurt (it was a little sweet), and snag a free pepperoni stick on the way out the door. Free is my favorite price.

In closing: it was a wonderful afternoon and I encourage you to attend next year if you get the chance.


  1. The twins in sync is just blowing my mind, it would be interesting to know if their heart frequency follow the same pattern...

    And I just LOVE the tags!

  2. If only they were women, we could make horribly distasteful jokes about their cycle being in sync. Actually, it's probably for the best they're not...

  3. yet another reason I really miss Vancouver. Watched online but about half way through it got super laggy.

  4. danielson

    a fine write-up! I agree that the 1 on 1 was rather "eerie." It looked like a synchronized skating routine. Enjoy your trip. A phone call at some point would be nice. You know how parents worry.


  5. "WHOM to cheer for!" Even better: "For WHOM to cheer."

  6. Good call, madwag. I appreciate it. The bulk of this post was written after midnight, so I may have stumbled over a few grammatical conventions.

  7. dangit, I was wondering why everyone had pepperoni sticks

  8. Jersey foul bingo is a great idea! I am constantly pointing out bad jerseys at games... I saw the "sheppard" guy with the 'c' at the Blues game on Thursday. Completely unnacceptable. Putting your own name on a jersey is only okay if you are under the age of ten. And I'm very disappointed in the number of people who got namebars added to the 40th Anniversary jersey! That's a blatant jersey foul.


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