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Grabner's speed came naturally

by John Kreiser

When it comes to skating, just call Michael Grabner "The Natural."

The New York Islanders forward won the Fastest Skater competition during the skills competition at All-Star Weekend in January and went on to lead all rookies with 34 goals, becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

He said Thursday that his skating skills just came naturally.

"I've never trained for it," he said. "I did a lot of sprints -- track and field -- when I was in school. I always practiced with older guys when I was in school when I was younger, and I tried to keep up with them. I wanted to be the fastest. That probably helped me.

"But I didn't do any specific training or have any skating coaches or anything. I guess I got lucky."

Grabner is one of just three Austrian-born players in the NHL (Thomas Vanek and Andreas Nodl are the others). Hockey isn't the big sport in his homeland, and Grabner may owe his career on ice to a fortunate accident of geography.

"We lived across the street from the rink," he said. "My mom signed me up when I was 5 because my friends and a lot of people from school were playing. That's how I got into (hockey). I liked it and started to play roller hockey in the summers. After that, I would spend five or six hours a day at the rink. I loved it."

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