last time I saw somebody go faster than the whole league

“McDavid looks like he’s different than everybody else. Last time I saw somebody go faster than the whole league was Bobby Orr. I was nine years old. And this guy’s faster than the whole league, and it’s incredible to watch.”

• Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, November 2016

shamokin_news_dispatch_tue__feb_8__1927_Last Wednesday, when it mattered, Connor McDavid flew down the ice at Edmonton’s Rogers Place to score the overtime goal that beat the Florida Panthers. Earlier that night, McDavid had notched the 100th point of his burgeoning NHL career in what was his 92nd game in the league. While it wasn’t Wayne Gretzky-good — he did it in just 61 games — it’s a feat that puts McDavid fourth among active players, behind Alex Ovechkin (77 games), Sidney Crosby (80 games), and Evgeni Malkin (89 games).

Last Sunday, mostly for fun, McDavid took part in the Oilers’ annual Skills Competition. Matthew Benning was the quickest of Edmonton’s backwards-skaters on the day; Milan Lucic showed the hardest shot. When it came to racing face-forward ’round the ice at Rogers Place, Benoit Pouliot (13.895 seconds) and J.J. Khaira (13.941) were fast. McDavid, by no real surprise to anyone, proved faster, make it around the rink in a time of 13.382 seconds.

That got Joe Pack of Sportsnet wondering: how does McDavid’s speed compare to NHLers of this age and others?

He duly noted that Detroit’s Dylan Larkin took a turn of the ice at the 2016 all-star game in a time of 13.172 seconds, outdoing Mike Gartner’s 1996 mark of 13.386. But? Overlooked, Pack submits, is the fact that

Larkin, and last year’s crop of contestants, got an advantage no other skaters before had: they began from the far blue-line, only to have the clock start once they hit the red line. Gartner, and every other skater at the competition over the years, started from the red line.

So Larkin’s record, I’m suggesting, should have an asterisk attached. Gartner’s record has apparently been broken by McDavid.

The real test, of course, will come in next week’s all-star game. “Still,” Pack writes, “the conversation around McDavid’s speed has begun in earnest. Is he the fastest in the game now? Is he the fastest ever?”

While we wait to find out, maybe is a look back in order? Beyond 1996, even?

The annals of speedy hockey-player skating are incomplete. The documentation, shall we say, isn’t superb. And while hockey players have tested themselves to see how fast they go for almost as long as the NHL’s, the conditions (as Pack points out) haven’t exactly been standardized. Some have stood still on their start line, others have skated to it at full fling. Some have carried pucks as they careened against the clock — not McDavid or Larkin or most of the recent racers. Technology has changed: hand-held stopwatches have been replaced by precision timers with electronic eyes. All of which makes it hard to line up McDavid’s feat (if that’s something you felt like doing) in order to compare it with those of, say, a Howie Morenz or a Hec Kilrea.

Still, back we go.

In 1945, Montreal Canadiens’ centre Buddy O’Connor won a one-lap, flying-start, puck-carrying race around Ottawa’s Auditorium in a time of 14.8 seconds. Teammates Elmer Lach (15.0) and Maurice Richard (15.2) came in after him; defenceman Leo Lamoureux was disqualified when he lost the puck.

Maple Leaf Gardens hosted what the papers called a speed test at the end of January, 1942. The Leafs had played Thursday and would be back on the ice in earnest Saturday, but on this Friday night the occasion was charitable, with 13,563 fans showing up in support of a memorial fun for the late Toronto sportsman Robert Ecclestone.

The evening’s entertainment featured a 20-minute scrimmage of (mostly) oldtimer Leafs.

The racing involved a puck-carrying contest with players flying to the start. There were seven of them, active NHLers from each team: Syl Apps (Toronto); Flash Hollett (Boston); Sid Abel (Detroit); Tommy Anderson (Brooklyn Americans); Lynn Patrick (New York); Max Bentley (Chicago); Jack Portland (Montreal).

They wore their uniforms but not all of their regular padding. The former Ottawa Senators’ star who presided at the finish-line did so under his current title: RCAF Squadron-Leader Punch Broadbent held the stopwatch.

Each man skated twice, initially. None of them broke 15 seconds in the first round, which also saw Hollett momentarily lose control of his puck and a fall by Abel. In the second heat, Apps and Patrick both blazed around at 14.8 seconds. In the tie-breaker, Patrick slowed to 15 seconds while Apps stuck to 14.8.

So that pleased the local fans. The ovation, The Globe and Mail testified, “has seldom been matched at any time.”

(Not everyone was so impressed. When The New York Post chimed in, it was to say that the event could hardly be considered “the last word” in speedsters, given that Chicago’s Doug Bentley and Milt Schmidt of Boston weren’t involved.)

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the only ones allowed to eat at four o’clock

Everyone In Bed: Detroit coach and manager Jack Adams — with a shirt packed with pucks. (Photo: Albert E. Backlund)

Everyone In Bed: Detroit coach and manager Jack Adams — with a shirt packed with pucks. 

Manager Jack Adams has issued
strict orders
as regards
training rules
for the Red Wings.

They must all be
up at 10 o’clock
for breakfast and
then
take
a morning walk.

On the afternoons of the day of games,
the last meal must be taken at three o’clock,
if a steak is the main dish,
then another walk
and a siesta.

Hec Kilrea and Marty Barry
are the only ones
allowed to eat
at four o’clock.

The reason is
they dine lightly
on eggs,
omitting
the steaks.

Movies are banned
on the afternoon of days the Wings play,
especially for Normie Smith.

Everyone in bed by midnight.

• The Gazette, Montreal, March 24, 1936; excerpted, edited, and poemized.

(Image: Albert E. Backlund)

hec rules

Ottawa Senators rookie Colin Greening is fast, but Hec Kilrea is (still) faster.

Carl Hagelin of the New York Rangers was actually top of the field overall Saturday night in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater event at the (big breath) 2012 Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Ottawa. But it was Greening who recorded the fastest time of the night and of the modern (recorded) era. His time of 12.963 seconds over a distance of 356 feet broke the previous record (13.4 seconds) set by Mike Gartner in 1996. It still lags behind the mark set by Hec Kilrea in Montreal in 1928 when he covered 570 feet in 16.4 seconds. Adjusting for the difference in distances then and now, Kilrea was a full 0.01 second faster than Greening, covering 34.8 feet/second to his modern-day challenger’s 27.5. Oh, and yes, once again: Kilrea was pushing a puck.

 By no surprise, Boston Zdeno Chara won the BlackBerry Hardest Shot event, unleashing a puck at 108.8 mph and thereby breaking his own previous record of 105.9 mph, set last year. Runner-up was Nashville’s Shea Weber, who also broke the old record with a slapshot of 106 mph.

give ’em hec

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.