OTTAWA -- Sean Couturier skated in on Carey Price from the red line carefully juggling the frozen puck with the blade of his stick.
The puck would bounce hop in the air, doing a revolution or two before landing calmly on his blade as he carried in on Price with the Scotiabank Place crowd sitting on the edge of their seats.
Couturier, 19, flipped the puck twice in succession and tried to kick it back across his body toward his stick.
It didn’t work.
Forced to wait until Round 2, skating in the NHL’s Breakaway Challenge at Saturday night’s All-Star Skills Competition in Ottawa, Couturier thought of a better plan. A safer plan, with the puck gliding on the ice at all times.
This time, Couturier fumbled at the start, but recovered to pull the puck through his legs before pausing momentarily to spin around and leave Price frozen at the other side of the net for a smooth goal.
“He needed to do something good after that first one,” Scott Hartnell said. “That first one was a little rough, I felt bad for him.”
“I didn’t sleep all night, I thought about it all night,” Couturier said. “I saw that move once when I was in junior and I just put a little something more to it and that’s what I came up with.”
Skating in the NHL’s version of the NBA Slam Dunk contest, Couturier’s creativity earned him 9 percent of the fan voting over the 3 rounds, good enough for 3rd place out of 6 shooters. Patrick Kane, who donned a Superman cape and glasses, edged out Anaheim’s Corey Perry, who pulled a mini-stick out of his equipment to score on Brian Elliott to win the event.
“I couldn’t even think about trying to do some of those moves,” Matt Read said.
Couturier’s showing wasn’t the Flyers’ only impressive representation in the Saturday night Skills. Kimmo Timonen advanced to the second round of the elimination breakway contest, Claude Giroux weaved through pucks quickly in the skills relay and Hartnell nailed all of his 3 shots to start the relay for his team.
Perhaps most impressive, though, was Read advancing to the final of the accuracy shooting drills before falling to Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn.
In the final, Read missed his first 3 shots but rebounded to go 4-for-4 to finish. He finished his first round in 14.9 seconds and his second try in 16.36 seconds. Benn was incredibly fast at 10.20 ticks in the final to earn the extra point for Team Chara.
“It was pretty nerve-racking out there,” Read said. “For the second round, after I got a chance to shoot a few pucks, I was able to get the nerves out and I was fine.”
Team Alfredsson, the home team with all of the Senators, won the overall Skills Competition by a score of 21-12. Zdeno Chara stole the headlines as his 108.8 mph blast broke his own record in the hardest shot competition.
For Couturier, it was another chance to show another side of his game, the offensive one that produced back-to-back 96 point seasons in his last 2 years at Drummondville (QMJHL). Couturier spends nearly 30 percent of his time on the ice on the penalty kill.
“He definitely does some tricky things,” Hartnell said. “You watch his practice every day or every game and he doesn’t have moves like that. It was pretty cool.”
Hartnell, whose shots were his only event, said he wasn’t as nervous as he thought he would be. He soaked in every minute of the event, as evidenced by him laying down on the ice to shoot photos and videos of his teammates.
“This could be a once in a lifetime thing,” Hartnell said. “It’s cool to meet all of these guys. As much as we hate the Rangers, [Henrik Lundqvist] has been a great guy. Everyone that you think you hate playing against, you want to kill on the ice, they turn out to be really, really good guys.”
That experience, rubbing elbows with the best players in the game, has worn off on the Flyers’ rookies. Hartnell, Giroux and Timonen will move on to Sunday’s All-Star Game, but Couturier and Read will be left to watch and wonder from the stands.
“Just being around all these guys, these superstars, it’s a great experience,” Couturier said, “It was fun.”
“It’s a special feeling when all of these NHL superstars know you by name,” Read said. “It’s a dream come true. I hope that someday I can come back here and participate again.”
For the full NHL Skills Competition results, click here.
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