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Hall of Famer Gartner still NHL's fastest

by Phil Coffey
The 2009 Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition will get off to a fast start -- quite literally -- on Saturday, Jan. 24 at Montreal's Bell Centre.

The Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition opens the show with the skates hitting the ice running. In this event, four participants have the ability to set the ice on fire with their blazing speed.

In addition to the points in the overall SuperSkills competition, this segment allows the competitors to take aim at the all-time record of 13.386 seconds established by Hall of Famer Mike Gartner 13 years ago at the 1993 All-Star Weekend, also in Montreal.

Then, Gartner brought the crowd at the Montreal Forum to its feet with a dazzling display of artistry as he rounded the rink, seemingly gathering speed with each stride.

After using a goal line to far blue line format in 2008, this year, the competition reverts back to the one-lap-of-the-rink format.
Gartner says that the speed that won him the 199# title was always a part of his hockey-skill arsenal.
"The speed was always there and my dad sent me to power-skating lessons in the summer and I learned a very good stride," said Gartner, whose No. 11 was retired by the Washington Capitals earlier this season. "I was born with quick-twitch muscles, a genetic thing that helped me. I utilized that speed to get in position to score goals. I developed more moves and ways to score after I turned pro. I watched different players, how they scored and how they moved, and tried to emulate the good things I saw."

That was never more evident than on Feb. 5-6, 1993 at the Montreal Forum in what was an unforgettable NHL All-Star Weekend.

The weekend featured an alumni game for the ages with so many Canadiens legends taking the ice again climaxed by the appearance of Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur with the Stanley Cup. Also, prior to the All-Star Game, Mario Lemieux, unable to play while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's Disease, received a thunderous ovation that may still be echoing through the Forum.

On the ice, the weekend belonged to Gartner. In addition to the display of raw speed in the skills competition, he became the fourth player in NHL history to score four goals in a game and was named the All-Star MVP in a 16-6 win by the Wales Conference against the Campbell Conference.

"Was there ever anybody who had that combination of speed and shot?" former Capitals teammate Craig Laughlin said of Gartner. "It was funny; he's bowlegged off the ice and a compact speedster on the ice. I just remember him going full speed, the short jersey, the bowlegged stride and the unbelievable inside-outside movement. It was just too hard to defend against that slap shot off the right wing."

For his career, Gartner played in seven NHL All-Star Games and also won the Fastest Skater Competition in 1996.
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