West Triumphs In Skills Challenge

They went through five competitions, and then the fun started.

The West won the Frozen Four Skills Challenge 13-6 Friday night at the Pepsi Center, beating the East in the third annual lighthearted event on the eve of the NCAA championship game for seniors who have completed their eligibility.

It finished up with penalty shots, and Eric Ehn stole the show.

With the overall result settled, the Air Force forward pulled off a memorable move, kneeling and reaching down to slide the puck back between his legs, then spinning around and knocking the puck in the net.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Ehn said. “That’s early-morning stuff, when you’re just out there with the guys, in the summertime, trying to get better, thinking up stuff. It kind of comes out. You half fall down, half make a play out of it and you’re like, ‘Hey, maybe if I did that on purpose, it’d be great.'”

Laughs abound at the Skills Challenge Friday (photo: Melissa Wade).

Laughs abound at the Skills Challenge Friday (photo: Melissa Wade).

“I have never seen anything remotely close to that before,” said St. Norbert goaltender Kyle Jones, who watched it with his West teammates. “That was unbelievable. I hope he makes ‘SportsCenter’ top 10 tonight.”

“He kept it pretty quiet, too,” Denver goaltender Peter Mannino said. “It was pretty funny because he didn’t know what he was going to do, and then, sure enough, he goes and pulls off something like that.”

It was the highlight of a fun night for the 31 players involved. However, there were other impressive efforts.

On his way to the net, Colorado College’s Jimmy Kilpatrick lifted the puck in the air, dribbled it on his stick three times and got enough on a swat to send it past Justin Mrazek of Union.

Wayne State’s Mike Forgie threw his glove up in the air as a distraction, but Mrazek stopped him.

Mannino had a pair of highlights in one last appearance in front of the home fans. He stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout, the third on a poke check by Rensselaer’s Jake Morissette.

Morissette’s coach, Seth Appert, a former Denver assistant and the East’s co-coach, threw up his arms to complain about the poke check, but Mannino mockingly signed his stick and gave it to Appert as he skated past the bench.

During the post-competition mingling on the ice, Mannino enlisted the help of Michigan State’s Daniel Vukovic to dump a water container on Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky, the West co-coach.

“I needed a big guy to help me out with that water tub,” Mannino said. “But, you know, this is the chance to do it. I’m no longer with Gwoz, so he can’t get too mad at me. I told him right after, ‘I’ll pay for your dry cleaning.’ He can’t get too mad at me.”

The night helped change the last impressions of Mannino’s senior season.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “Losing in the first round of the [NCAA] tournament left a little sour taste at the end of the season, but to come back in Denver, as big of an occasion and a venue as this, this was pretty cool.”

Each side got a point in the opening event, the puck control relay. The East’s Sabrina Harbec of St. Lawrence, Morissette and Jennifer Hitchcock of New Hampshire won the first heat. Miami’s Nino Musitelli, Lake Forest’s Courtney DeHoey and Kilpatrick took the second heat.

The West took a 4-2 lead by claiming three of the four points in the fastest skater competition. Ohio State’s Tessa Bonhomme (4.97 seconds) and Denver’s Andrew Thomas (4.61) won points for the West by having the fastest times in the preliminaries.

Bonhomme won another point by beating the East’s fastest female skater, New Hampshire’s Martine Garland.

Providence’s Jon Rheault got the East a point by beating Thomas in the men’s head-to-head skate, clocking a 4.45 from the goal line to the opposite blue line in a re-skate ordered by referee Greg Shepherd because of a false start.

Hitchcock got the East another point with the hardest women’s shot (76.6 mph).

“It was a blast,” she said of the experience. “This whole weekend, the Frozen Four in general, we’ve been set up awesome. We get to see great hockey. It’s really cool to come and meet everyone from the other teams.”

Vukovic fired a shot at 95.8 mph for a West point. The East took another point, making it 5-4, in the hardest shot competition by having the better average speed.

A pair of perfect goalies earned a point for each team in the rapid shot contest. St. Lawrence’s Meghan Guckian stopped all eight shots for the East; Jones stopped all eight shots, with some help from the goalposts, for the West.

Jones also stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout, making it a perfect night for the Division III player of the year.

“It’s fun when you’re on your downtime,” said Jones, who helped the Green Knights to their first national title this season. “But when I’m in the net, I know it’s all business in there. I know I wanted to help pull it off for our team and we pulled it off.”

The West added another point, making it 7-5, by having the most saves overall from four goaltenders, 28-26.

Shannon Moulson of Niagara made it golden for the West in the accuracy shot competition, hitting four of five targets in seven shots.

On the men’s side, Thomas and Army’s Luke Flicek both went 4-for-8; Thomas won a four-shot playoff, 3-1.

The West made it a clean sweep in accuracy by outscoring the East 12-10 overall, giving it a 10-5 lead.

The East was credited with a dubious victory in the inaugural event in Milwaukee in 2006; the West actually should have won, but an extra tiebreaking penalty shot was awarded to the East, and the West got revenge in St. Louis last season.