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All fun and games at Skills Challenge

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All-star style event attracts Sabres fans on snowy Sunday

Kerra Mazzariello

Over 10,000 Sabres fans gathered at KeyBank Center on Sunday afternoon to attend the organization’s first annual Skills Challenge to benefit a charity close to home: the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. Similar to the NHL competition coming up at the end of the month, this local Challenge was a fun way to see the players show off their talents in a lighter atmosphere to help take everyone’s minds off the team’s struggles on the ice as of late.

Before Brian Duff and Martin Biron kicked off the commentary for the afternoon, an array of Sabres alumni - including fan favorites like Dominic Hasek and Gilbert Perreault - made themselves available to sign autographs and meet with the fans.

At 12:30 p.m., it was Team Blue vs. Team White set to battle for the cumulative victory of five categories: hardest shot, accuracy, puck control, shootout, and power play. Noticeably absent from the roster was an injured Jack Eichel. However, he was present on the bench to cheer on (or poke fun at) his teammates throughout the afternoon.

Highlights of the hour started during the hardest shot challenge, when Rasmus Ristolainen, of Team White, clocked his two slapshots in at an impressive average speed of 106.25 miles per hour. The only other player to come close was Remi Elie, with an average shot speed of 104.5 miles per hour.

During the accuracy “showdown,” Kyle Okposo, of Team Blue, surprised fans with four targets made on only five shots to give his team a point towards the final score.

The final category of the event - and perhaps the most entertaining for both fans and players - was the shootout challenge. During each shootout, NHL rules applied, but each player was given two opportunities to score on either Linus Ullmark (White) or Carter Hutton (Blue).

Shooters proceeded to dazzle with hacky sack style stick moves, one-handed swings, and glove-throwing distractions to try to bury their shots past each respective goaltender. In total, each team scored six goals - two of which were from Tage Thompson who managed to sneak one in while laying on his stomach. Fans were also treated to a goaltender shootout between Ullmark and Hutton. The latter scored a goal to help make the final score of the event 12-10 in favor of Team White.

Sabres fans can catch more fun challenges during the NHL All-Star Game slated for Saturday, January 26, for which Eichel recently earned a roster spot. There is also still time to vote for Jeff Skinner - who was snubbed a spot and currently has the second-most goals in the league behind Alexander Ovechkin - as the “last man in.” Voting can be completed at https://www.nhl.com/all-star-ballot through January 10.