LAS VEGAS -- Dallas Stars center Joe Pavelski stood 35 feet away from his target, staring into the cool air. He slapped the puck with his stick and took a shot. Not at a goalie. Not even at a goal. At a large playing card: the ace of diamonds, which the puck punctured like a dart.
"Ace!" exclaimed Pavelski, taunting the four other NHL players with whom he was competing.
The players were in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard, which had been shut down for two hours so Joe Pavelski could shoot at a rack of 52 cards with a glowing red puck. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated to their left. The sun slowly set behind the casinos to their right. Showgirls in feathered costumes patrolled the sidewalks.
On Thursday night, the NHL did something it had never done before by staging two All-Star Game skills competitions outdoors: the "Las Vegas NHL 21 in '22" that shuttered the Vegas Strip for street hockey blackjack, and the "Discover NHL Fountain Face-Off," in which players traveled by boat to a platform in the middle of the Bellagio fountains for a timed shooting accuracy competition.
"What movie are they shooting here?" asked a passerby, as she looked at the stages and the cameras.
Her question was actually more relevant than she had anticipated: Along with these being the first outdoor events in NHL All-Star history, Thursday night marked the first time the NHL has taped skills competitions ahead of the event itself, held the night before the All-Star Game.
"We're never going to say it's live, but for some people, it might feel like we actually did go down to the Strip during the event," Steve Mayer, the NHL's chief content officer and the visionary behind these spectacles, said on Thursday.
Pavelski and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski attended Friday night's skills competition at T-Mobile Arena having already won events the previous day. Pavelski captured the "NHL 21 in '22" challenge on the shuttered Strip, while Werenski won the "NHL Fountain Face-Off." Their outdoor triumphs were edited together in a marathon session and shown during breaks in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition when the ice needed treatment.
"I don't think any of us knew what to expect, because it's never been done before," Werenski said.
News of their triumphs was kept surprisingly quiet after Thursday night. How did the NHL pull off something so grandiose while maintaining a semblance of secrecy?
The answer involves meticulous planning, thorough testing and around 20 frogmen.