Too bad they didn’t have sanctioned “fastest skater” competitions back in the day. It would settle a lot of barstool arguments about who had the quickest wheels in hockey history.
For every Mike Modano as some choose, others will counter with Pavel Bure. Or Yvan Cournoyer, Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Mike Gartner, etc.
Those are the best-known guys, but there are others who say some long-forgotten players—such as former Kings and Rangers defenseman Gene Carr or former Sharks and Flames forward Shean Donovan—were the fastest.
Today’s fastest skaters? It’s getting harder to tell. Everybody can skate fast now it seems. Without question, the biggest change in the game the last 15-20 years is the speed of the players—all players.
“It used to be you could hide your slower players, maybe match up your slower guys against their slower guys. You have a couple of slower players now in your lineup, they can get exposed pretty quick,” legendary former NHL coach Scotty Bowman told Bleacher Report. “But you’ve still got players who stand out in quickness at the top.”
Guys like the New York Rangers’ Carl Hagelin. Technically, he is the league’s fastest skater, having won the most recent contest measuring speed at the 2012 NHL All-Star Skills Competition (the lockout wiped out the 2013 game and the Olympics took care of this year’s).
Hagelin, then a rookie with the Rangers, circled the rink at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place in 13.218 seconds.
The hockey world saw that again Wednesday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center.
Hagelin’s sonic speed scored him a short-handed goal and almost got him another breakaway goal that probably would have won it for New York late in the third period, but the Kings went on to a 3-2 overtime win.
Hagelin finished with five shots on net and his speed, as smart kids like to say today, was a disruptive factor in the game.
“His speed short-handed was definitely a positive factor for us,” Alain Vigneault told New York Daily News’ Stephen Lorenzo. “We just need to be able to generate the same thing five-on-five.”
The Kings knew they got away with one, even though they did outshoot New York 43-27 and held the Rangers without a shot for 12 minutes in the third period. Fact is, if not for Jonathan Quick’s strong save on Hagelin with about 41 seconds left, his speed could have stolen Game 1 for the Rangers.
What makes Hagelin so fast, and why wasn’t he drafted any better than 168th overall in the 2007 draft?
Who knows about the vagaries of the draft—well, The Hockey News notes concerns about his size of 5'11", about 185 pounds at the time—but as to how Hagelin got so quick on his skates, the Swede told Men’s Fitness' Mark Barroso in 2013:
On a normal day, we’ll get to the rink around 10 a.m. We do activation of the hips and shoulders. I had shoulder surgery, so I need to get back full range of motion and strength, so I do shoulders before every practice. Then, I skate for about an hour, get on the stationary bike for 10-15 minutes to cool down, and then stretch. That’s a normal day of practice. On game day, I usually skate in the morning, do some stretching, and play the game. If you want to do legs, you usually do it after a game, because then you get enough rest until the next game.
Skaters are also faster, many believe, because of huge advances in sports nutrition and fitness technology.
“Nobody’s lugging around any excess weight anymore,” Bowman said. “They’re all in better condition now, with their diets and all the stuff in the gym they can do that didn’t used to be around. Plus, the equipment is lighter.”
Goals are what gets fans out of the seats more than anything—for the home crowd anyway—but speed is what really gets people excited.
In Colorado, whenever Nathan MacKinnon touched the puck in the playoffs, fans edged up in their seats and started to get excited. You could absolutely see the difference between the rookie carrying the puck and any other player doing so.
A lot of people would like to see a speed contest between MacKinnon and Hagelin. When we finally get an All-Star Game again next year, we just might.
In the meantime, the Rangers will take more nights from Hagelin like they got in Game 1. However, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter is no doubt devising schemes to lay some veritable speed bumps along the ice for when Hagelin steps out there.
Adrian Dater has covered the NHL for The Denver Post since 1995. Follow him @Adater