Despite all the star power in attendance for NHL festivities, it was the women’s 3 on 3 hockey game that was the real winner of the night at Enterprise Center. The only true hockey that was played on Friday night was done so by some of the greatest athletes in the history of hockey and living legends in their own rights. Team Canada topped Team USA in the inaugural Elite Women’s 3-on-3 matchup by the score of 2-1.
The future of professional women’s hockey is in a state of flux, though. After the close of the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) and the PWHPA (Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association) opting to sit out of game play until a more solid league can be established, the 3-on-3 game was one of the few opportunities for Women’s hockey to show off what it can do.
The women came ready to play and the fans at Enterprise Center received them with open arms. They drew one of the loudest ovations of the night when introduced alongside the NHL All-Stars at the beginning of the evening. We heard an even louder pop when USA favorite and former Wisconsin Badger Hilary Knight potted the lone goal for the Americans. Despite many players claiming that it was all for the benefit of women’s hockey, some (including Canadian, Natalie Spooner) couldn’t help but say that the cross-border rivalry was renewed.
And they all played like it. In a display of speed, precision, and excellent goaltending, the ladies put on show of high intensity, high quality hockey that both impressed and inspired the crowd. Molly Cruitt, an Illinois native and Blues fan was ecstatic to see the women play. She said, “(the game) reminded me of the talent, agility, and pure skill that hockey requires, and their high-energy performance drew me in from the very beginning…what an incredible display of strength and ability.”
The game was unique in many ways. Not only was it the first time women have played in an official capacity at the All-Star celebration, but it is one of the first times the women have played 3-on-3 in any game opportunity. With traditional overtime rules having them play 4-on-4, the new style provided some unique challenges. “It’s definitely really different. Normally when we play 3-on-3, it’s more about puck possession but with only 20 minutes we wanted to push the action a little bit more; put a bit of a show on.” Canadian forward and Ohio State Buckeye alum Natalie Spooner said about the new experience. “It’s so much fun, there’s so much space, there were breakaways and it was so fast out there that even after the first couple of minutes it was like, ‘ok this is really going.”
The game comes on the heels of a major commitment from the NHL, the Blues, and Bauer hockey all making a major financial pledge to women’s and girl’s hockey in the St. Louis area. The investment will cover equipment, coaching, ice time, special events, and a variety of year-round programs for players, coaches, and officials.
“Thanks to this joint initiative by the Blues, Bauer and the NHL, young women and girls across the St. Louis area will now have an even greater opportunity to learn hockey and experience all the benefits that come with being involved with our game,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “Our core belief is that “Hockey is For Everyone”.
Binnington, Kane, Slavin, Weber, and Barazal win skills events
As far as the other Skills events Friday night, there was plenty of drama and excitement too. With each winner taking home a $30,000 bonus, every event surprised in one way or another.
The big win of the night came from hometown hero Jordan Binnington who saved 10 straight breakaway attempts to take home the Save Streak championship. Coming from behind after allowing an early goal, the Blues tender had the building rocking as he stopped each do or die attempt. Including one from a Justin Bieber-masked Thomas Hurdle of the San Jose Sharks adding fuel to the new found rivalry between the Canadian stars.
New York Islanders young star Matt Barazal unseated perennial fastest skater champion Connor McDavid to open up the festivities on a high note. Whereas Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Kane closed the evening with a sudden death shoot-off in the new Shooting Stars event despite a rain of boos coming down from the STL crowd.
Three-time Hardest Shot winner Shae Weber retained his crown and won his fourth title firing an 106.5 mph slap shot to blow away the competition with his final shot of the evening. Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jacob Slavin then got his first Skills competition win when, despite technical difficulties with the new LED target screen, he hit all 5 targets in just 9.505 seconds to win the Accuracy Shooting Challenge.