By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Not that they did before, but it’s official now: No one wants to get in front of Shea Weber’s shot.
The Nashville Predators defenseman fired the hardest shot of 108.5 mph at the NHL All-Stars skills competition on Saturday night, taking advantage of five-time champion Zdeno Chara’s absence.
“I knew I got it,” Weber said. “But it’s tough. You never know how hard it is until it registers on the gun. But it felt like I got pretty much all I could into it, and (you) just kind of hope for the best.”
Fighting his nerves since he doesn’t practice high-velocity shots, Weber missed the entire net on a 101.8-mph drive with his first attempt. That nullified that try.
Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin – who stole the show at Friday night’s draft by pleading to be picked last so he would win a new car – had led the competition with a pair of 101.4-mph drives.
But then Weber stepped into his final shot to win the event.
He said it felt strange with the 6-foot-9 Chara – who holds the record of 108.8 mph set in 2012 – not participating.
“Obviously, he’s the guy to beat all the time,” Weber said. “He’s got the big shot. Honestly, I was nervous because there’s some guys out there that can rip it.”
The team captained by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno defeated one led by Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, 25-19. The teams meet in the 60th All-Star game on Sunday.
A capacity crowd roared with laughter, booed former Columbus players such as New York Rangers star Rick Nash, and gave Weber a standing ovation.
“We had a blast,” Foligno said. “The boys did awesome. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go but we got off to a great start.”
The other premier event at the skills competition featured Ryan Johansen of the hometown Blue Jackets winning the breakaway challenge.
Johansen pulled Blue Jackets trainer Mike Vogt’s 7-year-old son, Cole, out of the stands to score a goal to the delight of the crowd. In addition, the center endeared himself to Ohio State fans by pulling off his Blue Jackets sweater to reveal a No. 5 Ohio State football jersey – similar to one worn by injured star quarterback Braxton Miller – on his first shot.
Johansen also employed a star-laden V-formation to the net on his third and final attempt.
“On the ice we’re out there goofing around, having fun, making each other laugh while showing our moves and skills – things we don’t normally do on the ice,” Johansen said. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting these guys off the ice. It’s amazing how similar we all are.”
Moments after Johansen and Cole Vogt scored their tandem goal, Philadelphia’s Jake Voracek did exactly what Johansen did – except instead of a little boy he grabbed diminutive Calgary rookie Johnny Gaudreau and guided him toward scoring a goal.
The breakaway event began with St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott turning his back on an opposing player – Blues teammate Vladimir Tarasenko – and then taking a selfie of the two as the puck went into the net. The crowd again roared with laughter.
Ovechkin, who won the first three of the five times the breakaway has been held, struck out on three baseball swings off high passes from Tarasenko. Patrick Kane, who won in 2012 after donning Clark Kent glasses and a red Superman cape, didn’t compete in the breakaway but had the fastest time in accuracy shooting.
In the fastest skater event, in which players were paired off and raced around the perimeter of the rink against the clock, Team Foligno went 5-0 – winning all four races and pocketing an extra point for Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin posting the fastest time of 13.103 seconds.
Toronto’s Phil Kessel, who was dealt by Team Toews for Tyler Seguin on Friday in a duplicate of a real 2009 deal between Boston and Toronto, surprised many by edging the Dallas Stars star in the first speed pairing of the event.
In a matchup of Blackhawks teammates, Kane beat Toews by breaking four plates at the corners of a net almost 3 seconds faster – in a time of 13.529 – to push Team Foligno to a 10-1 lead through three events.
The two close friends shared a laugh later when they met at mid-ice.
“We’re always competitive with each other in all aspects of the game,” Toews said. “Tonight, he got the best of me. I had the chance to take it from him, and it just slipped away. It happens.”