By Patrick Kelly
The crowd in St. Louis was given more than they bargained for on Friday night at the NHL Skills Competition. In addition to seeing the best players from around the league in one building, the fans were treated to a blast from the past as the superstars that helped make Blues hockey a staple in St. Louis made their presence known. Wayne Gretzky, Bernie Federko, Al MacInnis, Keith Tkachuk and Brett Hull all made separate appearances throughout the night to aid the superstars as well as show the fans that they still have what it takes.
How else should you start an NHL event in St. Louis? You bring out the “Great One” to town and have him open the night’s festivities. He started off by hoping all the fans and players traveling to St. Louis get to see why it’s one of the greatest cities in the world. He ended his quick speech talking about how great it is to be a St. Louis Blues fan right now.
Federko was the first alumnus to participate in the competition with him feeding some passes to Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo before Pietrangelo got his chance at the accuracy challenge.
As the night went on, the Blues continued to step it up with a surprise during the hardest shot competition. MacInnis, a seven-time winner of the event, made his way out of the visitor’s tunnel and stepped onto the ice with none other than one of the wooden sticks that he still had from his playing career.
He got one shot and made it count, clocking in at 100.4, yes with a wooden stick. After the competition, MacInnis mentioned that he went out on the ice a few days ago to make sure “he still had it” and as he said, “it’s like riding a bike.” It’s very fitting that the Blues chose MacInnis to participate in the hardest shot considering a lot of the defensemen on the ice looked up to him growing up, including Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber who talked afterward about getting to see MacInnis on the ice again and how impressed he was.
Although the Blues had already brought out two of their biggest superstars of all-time, there was one reunion that fans across the league were happy to see. Before Matthew Tkachuk got his chance at the final event of the night he was joined by his father, Keith Tkachuk. Brady Tkachuk, who was also participating in the final event, stepped up and recreated a memory that has been more than 15 years in the making. Keith was in a few All-Star games himself, five to be exact, but it was his second to last one in 2004 that was bringing back memories. Matthew and Brady were only 6- and 4-years-old, respectively when they got to join their dad on the ice for the Skills Competition all those years ago.
The last alumni appearance of the night was probably the loudest the building got all evening. Ryan O’Reilly was down to one puck with 10 points separating him from a three-way tie with Toronto Maple Leaf Mitch Marner and Chicago Blackhawk, Patrick Kane, who almost seemed to enjoy playing the villain. Before O’Reilly was about to shoot, he decided he needed a ringer, but not just any ringer. The greatest scorer in St. Louis Blues history, Brett Hull, was met with a roar of applause followed by a loud “WE WENT BLUES” chant from the crowd. Brett didn’t quite get the 10 points needed, but he did manage to get two points before O’Reilly stepped up for his last chance only to hit the Arch at center ice and have it just land wide of the net.
The Blues started an All-Star Game trend that needs to continue in the future. The five former Blues players that made appearances also played for a combined five other NHL teams so it wasn’t just Blues fans who got a bit of a thrill. This is a tradition that should absolutely continue as well. Although the Blues Alumni is one of the strongest in the league, an event like the All-Star Game should be big enough to attract former players from all over. Next year, the event will be hosted by the Florida Panthers and although they have only been around since the early 1990s, they have built up quite an impressive resume of former stars. Imagine a year in the future when this event will be in Florida, having the likes of Pavel Bure, Roberto Luongo, or fan favorite Jaromir Jagr come out for an event. This is a special thing the Blues got going and with the help of other teams, it could become one of the most anticipated moments from the entire weekend.