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Grabner bests Hall in rookie speed-skating duel

by Mike G. Morreale
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The opening act of the Honda NHL SuperSkills was entertainment personified.
Not only did fans witness a pair of equipment-clad goalies huff and puff their way around the rink, they also saw a pair of rookie speedsters battle in a rematch to determine a champion at RBC Center during the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater event.
In the end, New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner of Team Staal took care of Edmonton's Taylor Hall, 14.238 seconds to 14.715, to win the crown.
"I never practiced it or worked on it … I guess it's just natural," Grabner told "It's not a skill everyone has, so I'm lucky, I guess. I was hoping I would be in the event. That's what my game is based on -- speed. So I was excited when heard I was in the event."
Grabner beat Hall, the first pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, in the opening heat, 14.061-14.261. Both finished tops on their teams, earning Hall a rematch in the championship round.
"I really wasn't thinking strategy in the rematch," Grabner said. "My legs were a little tired. I just didn't care. I thought, 'OK, one more lap and I'm done for the day.' It was great to be a part of it and being out there with these guys though."

Grabner, drafted 14th by the Vancouver Canucks in 2006, was actually scouted as a highly-skilled forward with speed and a tremendous shot. He was traded to Florida at last June's draft and the Islanders ultimately claimed Grabner off waivers during training camp. In 45 games this season, Grabner has 15 goals, 21 points and a plus-2 rating.

Grabner's time fell far short of the all-time record established by Mike Gartner (13.386) of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1996 at Fleet Center in Boston. He did, however, finish with a faster time than 2009 winner Andrew Cogliano (14.31) of the Edmonton Oilers at Bell Centre in Montreal.
"I was trying to break 14 seconds, but that's a tough goal," Grabner said. "I think I took the corner a little too easy. I didn't do too many crossovers. I didn't want to fall. I'd rather get the two points for Team Staal."
Steven Stamkos posted the third-best time of the 12-player opening heat in 14.731. The Tampa Bay Lightning center, skating for Team Lidstrom, defeated Washington's Mike Green (15.200) in his head-to-head matchup. Also giving the event a try were Vancouver's Ryan Kesler (14.786) and New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal (15.100) of Team Staal and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis (14.763) and Colorado's Matt Duchene (14.779) of Team Lidstrom.
Stamkos was all smiles in the locker room after edging his Lightning teammate, St. Louis, in the competition.
"I didn't even know what I was doing heading into the dressing room (on Saturday), so we didn't have time to make any bets," Stamkos said. "But he let me know that I beat him and that I have 15 years on him too. He said that he had a bad start."
The highlight of the competition, however, was the determined efforts of Boston goalie Tim Thomas (19.000) of Team Lidstrom and Carolina's Cam Ward (18.895) of Team Staal. Additionally, there was one race on the docket where both players were required to skate backwards -- Chicago's Duncan Keith of Team Lidstrom and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang of Team Staal did the honors.
Letang bested Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy recipient, by the slimmest of margins -- 16.132-16.167.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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