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Friday, January 16, 2015

7 Fascinating Facts About Mike Gartner: National Hockey League 700 Goal Scorer & Hall of Famer

Consistency. If you had to pick one word to describe NHL Right Winger Mike Gartner it would be consistency.  My dad often spoke highly of Mike Gartner and I sort of brushed it off as his own personal bias for the guy. But then I did some research and found out more about the man, on and off the ice. And so it is with great admiration that I contribute this blog post in honour of one of the most consistent – and respected -  men in hockey history. 

#1 Beginnings

Michael Alfred Gartner was born October 29th, 1959 in Ottawa, Ontario but soon moved with his family to the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. It was here he would learn to skate and play hockey eventually playing junior in the QMJHL and OHA for the Niagara Falls Flyers. Mike and his family had originally wanted to play for Roger Neilson in Peterborough where he knew people but Hap Emms drafted him for Niagara anyways. 

Mike represented Canada at the 1978 World Junior Championships where he notched 6 points in a Bronze medal winning effort. Perhaps an even fonder memory for Mike though was travelling to Moscow not long after the legendary 1972 Summit Series and playing a 5 game championship there. 

#2 WHA Career

What many may not know about Gartner is that he started out as an 18 year old in the World Hockey Association playing alongside teammate Mark Messier ( then 17) for the Cincinnati Stingers. Mike recalls, “The WHA was a very good league; probably not as good as the NHL but just a small step down…. It was a great experience for an 18 year old kid…”

Remarkably Mike finished as runner up to none other than Wayne Gretzky for the Rookie of the Year award. 

#3 NHL Career 

When the WHA merged with the NHL the next year Mike was drafted 4th overall by the Washington Capitals. He noted “ When I went there, hockey was in no way the number one sport. In fact, it wasn’t number two, three or four either!” No doubt his career with the Caps helped lift the awareness and love of hockey in that city. In fact, his number 11 was retired by the organization in 2008. It was also in Washington where he would meet his good friend and mentor, Jean Pronovost. A fellow right winger, he would help mold Mike into the hockey player and man he became. 

Mike experienced the turbulence of being traded a number of times. Before he retired in 1998, He had played for the Capitals, the Minnesota North Stars, the New York Rangers, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and finally the newly relocated Phoenix Coyotes. Mike played in the NHL All Star game 7 times including an MVP performance in 1993 and a record breaking “Fastest Skater” skills time of 13:38. A record not broken until 2012. 

#4 International Career 

If there was an upside to the Capitals being knocked out of the playoffs so often by the mighty Islanders or Flyers, it was that Gartner could play for Team Canada at the World Championships. Though we as Canadians don’t always put much stock in the WHC we always appreciate the player who is willing to continue his hockey season and put on the Maple Leaf for his country. He played in the WHC 4 times, scoring 21 points and winning 2 bronze medals.  

As was mentioned earlier Mike won a bronze for Canada in the 1978 World Junior Hockey League. He also earned the honour of playing on the 1984 and the famed 1987 Canada Cup team where he tallied 9 points and won both championships. Mike Gartner always answered the patriotic call of his country. 

#5 Stats, Records & The Hall of Fame

In 2001 Mike Gartner was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame. There are a few who still question if he was worthy of this honour. After a look at his stats, his speed, his consistency, his all-star and international appearances and his reputation there seems to be no doubt that he does indeed belong and that comfortably.

Gartner’s career stats are 708 goals and 627 assists for a total of 1,335 points in 1,432 regular season games. He is of course renowned for being a member of the NHL’s exclusive 700 goal club – occupied by only 6 other players in history. What is perhaps even more amazing is his 15 consecutive 30+ goal seasons, a record he now shares with Jaromir Jagr. It is significant, however, to note that his streak was interrupted only by a strike shortened season. After that season he had another two 30 + goal seasons which would essentially, and in all likelihood, put him at 18 consecutive 30 + goal seasons with 5 different teams. Even for the high scoring era in which that was accomplished it is utterly remarkable. 

Though Gartner never won a Stanley Cup (one of the biggest criticisms) it is rather gut-wrenching to realize that he was traded from the New York Rangers the very year they won the Stanley Cup in 1994.

#6 Off the Ice

After his retirement at the conclusion of the 1997-98 season Mike would become increasingly more involved in the NHLPA eventually becoming its president. He held position on numerous boards and committees in the NHLPA including chairman of the Goals and Dreams Fund – a hockey initiative that has given millions to grassroots hockey all over the North America. He also volunteered heavily in many youth hockey camps. 

It is worth noting that Mike’s personal priorities and worldview led him to retire even though he was only 10 goals shy of passing Phil Esposito on the all-time NHL goals list and only 23 short of passing Marcel Dionne. Since then Brett Hull has reached a formidable 741 goals but at the time Gartner could have secured his name in a trio with Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe – pretty elite company. However, Mike put faith and family over personal glory and has never regretted it. 

#7 Faith 

To quote Mike directly, “ Professional hockey players are in the limelight because of the level at which we compete. However, after the glaring arena lights shut down and we’ve left the ice, we face the same challenges and questions and have the same needs and desires as anyone else.” 

It was in 1980 that Jean Pronovost joined the Washington Capitals and soon became friends with Mike Gartner. Jean and his wife, Diane, eventually invited Mike, along with some other Caps players ( such as Ryan Walter and Wes Jarvis) , to their house for informal Bible studies. During a road trip on which Mike had a particularly insightful discussion with Pronovost, he recalls that “In the quietness of my hotel room, I got on my knees and said. ‘ Lord if you are real, come into my life now and change me’.” 

He goes on to say, “ I found...a peace that profoundly impacted the rest of my life…. My faith (in Jesus) helped me to handle the highs and lows of the game – the injuries and trades, the scoring sprees and the slumps… I knew that God had a plan for my life.”
Mike summed it up nicely when he said, “I came to realize that God is not necessarily interested in the outcome of sports – He is interested in people who play sports.” 

In concluding, Kevin Shea, Editor for the Hockey Hall of Fame said this of Gartner:  “An outstanding performer on the ice and as trusted as anyone in hockey off the ice, Mike Gartner employed blazing speed, outstanding skill and great intelligence into a remarkably consistent and productive Hall of Fame career.”  The Hall of Fame website also calls him “…perhaps the most consistent and unnoticed scorer the game has ever seen.”


Kevin Shea, Hockey Hall of Fame

Legends of Hockey

The Edge by Sigmund Brouwer / Countryman Publishers

Toward the Goal by Cathy Ellis / Hockey Ministries International


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