The best part of Friday's All-Star Skills Competition for Canucks fans may have been Kevin Bieksa's presence as roving reporter.
Just like every time he has appeared on Hockey Night in Canada in recent months, Juice consistently brings a healthy dose of Vancouver-oriented perspective to his interviews and commentary.
On Friday, I enjoyed seeing him skate with Elias Pettersson, exhorting him to try to answer questions will also bouncing the puck on his stick. And Petey did all right!
Word is that Petey volunteered for the hardest shot competition, where he briefly held the lead as the fourth shooter out of six before John Carlson and Shea Weber beat his benchmark of 102.4 miles per hour.
Petey was the only forward in a burly group of defensemen that also included Seth Jones, Mark Giordano and Victor Hedman. And perhaps his desire to test himself in the competition stems from all those questions he once faced about his size — questions that have died right off this season as Pettersson has stayed healthy and spent the year comfortably nestled among the top 20 in the NHL points race.
On Friday, Petey showed that he could indeed hang with the big boys. And according to Daniel Wagner at Pass It To Bulis
, the only forward ever to record a shot harder than Petey's at a Skills Competition was Steven Stamkos, who recorded 103.9 mph in 2016 — and also lost to Shea Weber.
Jacob Markstrom's best moment may have come on the red carpet, where he rocked an incredible suit.
We're all well aware of Markstrom's father passing away late last year. On Friday, we learned that the big goaltender was also friends with Godfrey Gao, the Taiwanese-Canadian actor and model who grew up in North Vancouver and who died suddenly in China in November, at age 35, while filming an event for a sports reality show.
Gao also had a clothing line, called YOYUU. Markstrom's tux was one of his designs.
"He passed a month ago. It's super sad. Way too early," Markstrom told Cristina Ledra of NHL.com.
"But I really wanted to honor him and wear this suit. It's a different material (on the lapels). When you have the flash to take photos, it changes colors, so I figured no one else would be wearing something like this here, so why not go big once you're here?"
With all the tragedy that Markstrom has endured this season, it's nice to see that he was able to share his red-carpet moment with his mom.
A couple of other brag-worthy moments came from B.C. residents — Coquitlam's Mat Barzal upsetting Connor McDavid to win the fastest skater competition and VPD officer Meghan Agosta setting up Rebecca Johnston for an end-to-end rush as Canada defeated Team USA 2-1 in the entertaining 3-on-3 elite women's challenge.
All told, it was a fun event as usual — and I liked the fact that while winners were still declared for individual events, they did away with the convoluted East vs. West scoring system that we've seen in past years. We'll get enough of that in the 3-on-3 games.
Saturday's coverage kicks off at 4:30 p.m. PT, and the Canucks' Pacific Division game vs. the Central Division is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. If you're interested in seeing the enhanced broadcast with the new added puck-and-player tracking features, tune in to the "NHL All-Star Stats Central" feed that will run on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360.
Is it just me, or has the Canucks' break gone by in a flash this year? Maybe it's just the fact that they're right back at it on Monday against St. Louis?
Perusing the holiday photos on Instagram stories, it was interesting to see that some bonds between old teammates have endured. Ben Hutton, now of the Los Angeles Kings, joined Jake Virtanen and a bunch of his buddies at the beach, and I have a feeling it's the wives and girlfriends who are the glue that have brought Chris Tanev and Alex Edler and their significant others back to Cabo for another holiday with Erik Gudbranson and Sam Gagner and their wives.
Down on the farm, the Utica Comets will look to head into their All-Star weekend on a winning note and snap a three-game losing streak as they finish off a home-and-home in Belleville against the Senators on Saturday. The streak started with a 4-2 matinee loss on Martin Luther King Day on Monday in Syracuse, and continued through home games against Binghamton on Wednesday and Belleville on Friday.
Looks like Mikey DiPietro and Zane MacIntyre have been alternating starts lately, so the rookie DiPietro should get the nod on Saturday.
In typical AHL fashion, it's straight into their All-Star festivities after Saturday's games — and with some serious travel, to boot. For the first time, the event heads out west, with this year's event being held in Ontario, California, home of the L.A. Kings' farm team the Reign.
The Skills Competition goes Sunday at 5 p.m. PT, then the 3-on-3 tournament runs Monday at 7 p.m. PT, with both events broadcast on TSN2 and our own Jon Abbott of TSN1040 on the mic for the play-by-play.
AHL leading scorer Reid Boucher and rookie Brogan Rafferty will be repping the Comets. Rafferty missed a couple of games with injury but was back in action on Friday night. He currently leads all AHL defenders with 37 points, five ahead of second-place Jake Bean of Charlotte.
One final Canucks All-Star note to wrap things up for today:
Enjoy the game!