In essence, there was nothing on the line last night at the Washington Capitals' skills competition. Regardless of how hard anyone shot the puck or how fast they skated, they would not be invited to Toronto for the All-Star Game in February. Goaltender Olaf Kolzig will be the team's only representative there.
Instead, bragging rights and trash-talking supremacy were the rewards of utmost importance. And there were plenty of jokes being flung around the dressing room between the team's North American and European players. Everyone wanted to put on a good show for the fans at MCI Center and no one wanted to finish last in any of the competitions.
The Capitals' biggest concern was avoiding injury during the competition, which benefited Children's Hospital and area youth hockey. Florida lost star goalie Trevor Kidd to a season-threatening shoulder injury during its skills competition, an event each NHL team sponsors. But for the most part, a team that is enjoying life and each other's company during a nine-game unbeaten streak just wanted to have a little fun and partake of some good-natured verbal sparring.
"Definitely, the Europeans should have more skill," sniper Peter Bondra said. "For us to lose to these North American guys will be not acceptable. We can't let that happen."
The Blue Team, which included most of the Capitals' European players, lost the overall competition to the White Team. The players competed in five events--the puck control relay, fastest skater, hardest shot, shooting accuracy and breakaway relay. Bondra won the hardest shot at 98 mph, one of the 15 hardest shots recorded this season. North Americans Joe Sacco and Terry Yake, however, beat him in the fastest skater and shooting accuracy competitions, respectively.
Bondra was most interested in the fastest skater contest and made side wagers with fellow Europeans Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis. Bondra, the NHL's reigning fastest skater, recently returned from two injuries to his left knee, but had other things on his mind.
"I just wanted to do whatever it takes to beat Zed and Bulis," he said.
Bondra managed to out-race Bulis, but not Zednik, who finished second to Sacco's time of 13.930.
Capitals Notes: The Capitals sent forward Jeff Toms back to Portland. . . . Winger Ulf Dahlen and defenseman Calle Johansson have the flu and did not participate last night. Coach Ron Wilson said they will play tonight against Phoenix. . . . Kolzig has moved into the top five among all goalies with 19 wins. . . .
The Coyotes have had a rough week--their game against Carolina Tuesday was postponed because of snow and Wednesday's game at Atlanta also was postponed because of the inclement weather. They made up the game against the Hurricanes yesterday afternoon, defeating Carolina, and flew into Washington last night for tonight's game. . . . Phoenix center Jeremy Roenick is the only NHL player to lead his team in goals, assists and penalty minutes. . . . Only Dallas has earned more road points that the Coyotes.