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.
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.
Remarkably Mike finished as runner up to none other than Wayne Gretzky for the Rookie of the Year award.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.legendsofhockey.net/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/LegendsMember.jsp?mem=p200102&type=Player&page=bio&list=
The Edge by Sigmund Brouwer / Countryman Publishers
Toward the Goal by Cathy Ellis / Hockey Ministries International