Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ovechkin: Pioneering the NHL's "Slam Dunk" competition

The evolution of the NHL's Breakaway Competition is best compared to the evolution of the NBA's Slam Dunk Competition.

In 1976, the ABA decided to showcase the slam dunk in its very own competition. At that time, the NCAA had just recently allowed the "dunk" in its game while professional players had been using the dunk as an efficient power move that overwhelmed defenders.

The ABA took notice of the dunk's popularity and put it in the spotlight.

I've embedded the very first dunk competition for your enjoyment below.

The competition boiled down to a collection of players experimenting with the competition, but ultimately holding back. That was until Julius Erving, or Dr. J, set the bar for future dunk competitions. Dr. J soared from the free throw line to the hoop, slamming the ball ferociously to the roar of the crowd.

Today, the dunk competition is the event to watch at the NBA's All-Star event. Players want to be part of the lineage that Dr. J began, and fans can't wait to see what tricks the players have up their sleeves.

Players have added chairs, stickers, kicks, anything you can think of to elevate their dunk to "legendary" status.

Now fast-forward to 2008. The NHL introduces the Breakaway Challenge, a trick shot competition focused around the NHL's most exciting play, the breakaway.

Much like the ABA's first dunk competition, players were unsure of what they should do. Many fiddled around with common tricks, one player dropped to his knees, but for the most part it was not the exciting event many thought.

That was until Alex Ovechkin, much like Dr. J., set the bar for what the competition would become. Bouncing the puck off his stick, Ovechkin spun in a circle before trying to bat the puck home.

It was a unique display of puck control, skill and showmanship that the previous attempts lacked. Players tapped their sticks, fans cheered and soon the move became another YouTube highlight for The Great Eight.

Now the Breakaway Challenge is the marquee event of the SuperSkills competition. Fans and players are excited to see what Ovechkin will attempt, and his competitors are itching for the chance to one-up the reigning champ.

Alex Ovechkin may not win the Breakaway Challenge this year, but if the event is here to stay, he will be remembered as its pioneer.

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