The biggest winners at Saturday night’s All-Star Skills Competition might have been the Florida Panthers.
Not only did P.K. Subban win the Breakaway Challenge dressed as Jaromir Jagr — complete with Florida’s white road jersey with Jagr’s No. 68 and a graying mullet wig — but Florida’s “Spacey In Space” sweatshirt also made an appearance.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad wore the lucky blue sweatshirt — the one the Panthers give out to their game MVP after victories — for his turn in the hardest-shot competition.
“The team wanted to do it, get some good press for the Panthers,” Ekblad said. “A lot of guys around the league hadn’t seen it yet. And no one knows the true story behind it, either.”
Goalie Roberto Luongo got into the act, shoving former Vancouver teammate Cory Schneider out of the way so Brent Burns’ young son could score in the breakaway.
Luongo then stopped all nine shots faced in the shootout event.
“We had a good time,” Luongo said. “We had a lot of stuff going on. A lot of funny things happened, not just from our guys. I really enjoyed it; that was probably the most fun I’ve had at the skills competition. We were trying to give the fans a show.”
How the Panthers got the sweatshirt to Nashville without many getting wise was stealthy stuff.
First, the team had to borrow the royal blue sweatshirt from Alex Petrovic, who, as the previous winner of it Tuesday, technically holds on to it until the next win.
Petrovic handed the sweatshirt over to team COO Matthew Caldwell, a 2002 West Point graduate who told the Miami Herald he hid the sweatshirt until bringing it to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday afternoon “like the nuclear football” where he delivered it to Ekblad.
Doug Cifu, a co-owner of the Panthers, said Ekblad was more than happy to wear the sweatshirt yet everyone needed to keep the secret so not to tip off any potential NHL “fun police” who might have objected to the stunt.
“I was tucking it down in my jersey,” said Ekblad, who left the ice to put it on. “It was a good surprise.”
Caldwell was trusted with bringing it to the Music City. “He’s protecting it like it’s the Shroud of Turin,” Cifu said.
Also a secret was Subban’s tribute to Jagr. For his second shot in the breakaway, Subban raced out of the locker room dressed as Jagr to loud cheers.
Subban, Montreal’s star defenseman, was warmly greeted by Jagr on the ice as the two posed for pictures although Jagr said the painted wig had too many gray hairs in it for his taste.
“I didn’t know he was going to do that and it was funny,” Jagr said. “I have the nine ‘Traveling Jagrs’ around the league. He can be the 10th. He said he was looking for the job. He’ll do fine.”
Said Subban: “This was just a tribute to Jagr and the great career he’s had. He’s got great hair and is a good looking guy. That’s where it starts.”
▪ By winning the Skills Competition, the Eastern Conference teams will play the first-period semifinal at 5 p.m.; the west teams will follow at 6 with the championship scheduled for 7.
“Hopefully we win then we can take a break and get ready for the third,” Luongo said.
Said Jagr: “If we lose I can go home right away and rest.”
▪ The NHL announced Saturday that it was donating $200,000 to help Denna Laing in her recovery from an accident at the Winter Classic in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Laing, playing in the Outdoor Women’s Classic game for the Boston Pride on New Year’s Eve, sustained a severe spinal-cord injury.
The Bruins and Canadiens, who played in the Winter Classic, have also been raising money for Laing.
On Saturday, the NHL also announced it arraigned to have a specially-equipped Honda minivan donated to Laing.
When/where: 5 p.m.; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville.
Florida Panthers participating: Atlantic Division captain Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Aaron Ekblad; coach Gerard Gallant.
Format: This year, the All-Star Game is a tournament of sorts with the NHL’s four divisions (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, Pacific) split up.
The Atlantic and Metropolitan will play a 20-minute 3-on-3 session. The winner of that will face the winner of the Central-Pacific period with the winner of the third and final championship period splitting a $1 million prize pool.