The Jets held their annual skills competition yesterday, as the entire team took part in various drills which measured their shooting accuracy and skating speed in a variety of drills that thrilled the many fans that attended the affair at the Winnipeg Arena.
The skating drills that the entire team took part in were races straight from goal line to goal line, then later players had to maneuver among pylons, and finally they had to race from the goal line to blue line, back to the goal line, then ending at the red line. For the shooting competitions, the players participated in a rapid fire format drill from the blue line and then from either of the faceoff circles. Finally, each player had to attempt a breakaway on either of Pokey Reddick or Daniel Berthiaume.
Naturally, fans figured that Dale Hawerchuk would have been the prohibitive favorite, followed by the likes of Thomas Steen, Brian Mullen, Dave Ellett and Laurie Boschman. However, the competition produced some surprise results that left everyone in attendance shocked.
In each one of the skating drills, slow, lumbering forward Paul MacLean took the honors, narrowly beating out Ray Neufeld. Doug Smail finished a distant third, followed by Brian Mullen and Dale Hawerchuk. The shooting drills produced a more wide-open competition, but this time Neufeld was the overall winner, followed closely by MacLean, with Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, and Dave Ellett. This part of the competition came right down to the wire, with both Neufeld and MacLean left to attempt a final breakaway on Berthiaume. MacLean fired a shot between Berthiaume's legs, but the flashy goaltender closed his pads in time to stop MacLean's attempt. Neufeld finished his attempt off in a much more grand fashion, putting a move on the goaltender that cause him to end up flat on his back. Neufeld was left with a wide open net, and he made no mistake, as the crowd gave him a thunderous ovation to recognize his artistry with his stick.
Both MacLean and Neufeld seemed as surprised as anyone with their success in the various drills.
"I don't think I ever beat anyone in a race before today," said MacLean. "Even in the outdoor rinks I played on as a kid, I'd always be left far behind, but today, I felt like I had a divine wind behind me out there. It was a strange feeling having the pack trailing me for a change, instead of the other way around. Nobody was yelling 'Get off the ice, MacLean' today. Even in the shooting competitions, it seemed like everything was going in. During a game, I don't think I've ever scored a goal from more than five feet away from the net, but I put moves on Pokey and the Bandit that I never knew I had."
Neufeld also expressed surprise at the results today, saying, "I don't know what happened. Dale and the rest of the guys just must have had off days today or something. Usually, I'm clanging the pucks off the post, or missing wide open nets, but it seems like I had the Midas touch today. Almost every puck I shot made it in somehow. I was just hoping I wouldn't screw up that last breakaway. When I get set up with a wide open net like that, I'll almost always shoot it wide, but I tried hard to bear down and actually score for a change. Pokey and the Bandit probably will probably have nightmares about this day, with me and Mac scoring so often on them. Today, we got to turn the tables on them for a change."
After the competition was over, a gracious Hawerchuk congratulated each of the big winners, "Mac and Ray were great out there today. Man, I wish they'd show some of that speed and skill on the ice when we're actually playing a game. I certainly don't mind losing out to them one bit if we could actually see Ray put a puck into an empty net once in a while. Or see Mac out race a snail. He's so slow that you could time him with a sun dial."
One thing's for sure, there will be no Jets taking anything for granted at next year's competition. You never know who might be the surprise winners.