hec of a skater

Today in Ottawa the NHL’s all-stars take to the ice at the ScotiaBank Place for the somewhat annual Skills Competition. Toronto’s Phil Kessel and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson will be among those vying for the title of Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater, and, while they’re at it, they’ll challenge the time of last year’s winner, Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders, who covered a distance of 356 feet in 14.2 seconds. According to records kept on and off since 1990, the fastest man over that distance is the former Washington Capitals and Maple Leafs winger Mike Gartner, who sped it in 13.4 seconds in 1996.

We’ll see how it goes today, but according the all-too-incomplete archive on this matter, today’s challengers have their work cut out if they want to beat the pre-sponsorship mark set by The Hurricane in 1928. That would be Hec Kilrea, left winger, an original Ottawa Senator, at a speedskating derby at the old Montreal Forum ahead of a game with the Maroons in March of the year. In this case, the course measured 570 feet and — impressively — Kilrea was pushing a puck all the way around. The record over that distance stood at 17 seconds, set a year earlier by the great Howie Morenz and subsequently equalled by a host of others, including Babe Siebert, Jimmy Ward, and Aurele Joliat. On this night, Kilrea was tremendous on the straightaway and, quote, kept his feet together rounding the buoys that defined the corners of the course. His time: a zooming 16.4 seconds.

Adjusting for the difference in distances then and now, Kilrea was a full 0.01 second faster than Grabner and Gartner per foot, covering 34.8 feet/second to their respective 25 and 26.6.

Boston captain Zdeno Chara has owned the hardest shot for the past four years, hitting a top speed of 105.9 mph last year. In 1928 the hardest shot in the NHL — though nobody had a speed-gun aimed at him — was said to be Chicago right winger Babe Dye. Six years later, he’d been supplanted by The Big Bomber, Toronto right winger Charlie Conacher. I don’t know if they were racing that year, but a panel of sportswriters polled on the all-star ballot voted for Morenz as the fleetest of skaters. Joliat was the best stickhandler while Boston’s Eddie Shore was deemed the game’s greatest box-office attraction.