Garts Comes Home

Mike Gartner Retirement Jersey LogoOn about a dozen occasions the past couple of years I’ve been able to listen in on conference calls arranged by the Caps with prominent members of the hockey community. Generally there are a couple of bloggers participating in the calls, and at least a half dozen members of the traditional media. I enjoy listening to all of the questions asked, and their answers. The press, it seems to me, makes a fairly limited range of inquiries of any given hockey figure, whereas the bloggers seem to bring a special spirit of inquiry to the exercise, one that’s expansive and creative and a bit outside to proverbial box. It’s not as if one set of questions is inherently better than the other, it’s just that more often than not I find myself admiring the line of thinking new media personalities bring to the calls. The players, managers, and personalities being interviewed seem to enjoy answering both sets of questions.

Yesterday afternoon media new and old covering the Caps had a chance to chat up Mike Gartner, whose no. 11 will rightly be raised to the Verizon Center rafters this coming Sunday night. We the new age interrogators always show deference to our traditional media colleagues during these conference calls, but there wasn’t much of a stampede to query Garts by those paid to be on the call, so Stephen Pepper of the Red Skate chimed in early on, wondering how much no. 11 watched today’s Caps and specifically if he’d imagined what his career might have looked like were he the right wing to Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. It was a thoughtful and creative query, rather brilliantly conceived, actually, and Garts answered it thoughtfully.

“There wouldn’t be enough puck to go around,” he answered with appreciation and humor. “Ovi competes so hard and wants the puck so badly, he’s fun to watch.”

Pepper also asked Garts about the state of rivalries involving the Caps these days, wondering if he’d noticed what many Caps’ fans had: that the Southeast can’t hold a cup of eggnog to the ferocity so often found in the old clashes with the Flyers, Pens, Rags, and Isles. Here the old right wing skated a careful, straight line, pointing out that in his day there were just 20 or so teams in the league, as opposed to today’s 30, and that there therefore was a greater familiarity with teams around the league. Familiarity breeds contempt, you know. Gartner seemed to hold out hope that the Caps could establish terrific rivalries in the Southeast. (I’m not holding my breath.)  

Cup'pa JoeMike Gartner was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. He was a seven-time NHL All Star, and in 1998 the Hockey News ranked him no. 89 among the 100 greatest hockey players of all time. He holds the record for the most consecutive 30-plus goal seasons in the league — fifteen. Known for his Lamborghini speed, he’d merit special attention in the Toronto Hall if it built an exhibit honoring players with the greatest jets. 

I wanted to know a little about the genesis of those jets. I referenced the adage of great skaters being born rather than developed, and asked no. 11 if he believed that and if he’d done anything special to develop that blazing stride.

“There’s a lot of truth to that [adage],” he said. “I was the fastest kid on the ice when I was 5, so there was no training [involved] there. But then it’s what you do with it.”

Gartner in fact did do something special with his genetic gift. While many other young hockey prodigies in Canada attended traditional summer hockey camps, Gartner went off to power skating camps, summer after summer. And he didn’t much care for them — if you’ve been through but a single power skating instructing course, you’d know why. But that labor sure paid off. 

When the topic yesterday turned to Sunday night’s number honoring at Verizon Center, Gartner credited Dick Patrick and Ted Leonsis with selecting the December 28 date, when the Leafs visit. Gartner is an Ontario boy, who grew up rooting for the Leafs, and that rare Ontarian who actually wore the Leafs sweater.

The Capitals have organized an impressive welcome home for Garts this Sunday night. Fans attending will receive a Mike Gartner jersey pin, along with a distinctive no. 11 sign. A veritable army of former teammates will be in the Booth: Bobby Gould, Bob Carpenter, Rod Langway, Dennis Maruk, Larry Murphy, Craig Laughlin, Wes Jarvis, Scott Stevens, among many others. The current Caps’ team will wear throwback sweaters during pre-game warmups, each one with no. 11 on it, and those sweaters will be auctioned off afterward.

Before Mike Gartner’s sweater is raised to the Verizon Center rafters Sunday night, there will be a video tribute to no. 11’s career. Expect to see vapor trails trailing his skates in that footage.     

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8 Responses to Garts Comes Home

  1. Muddapucker says:

    I think this is a great move on the Caps part… I hope the game is broadcast in Canada, which I feel certain it will be since its a Leaf’s game.
    There’s been a lot of talk about the Caps 3rd jersey. I love the Caps original jersey. Why don’t they just wear that as the 3rd jersey?
    I bet the Caps will really look sharp tonight wearing the “old” #11 sweaters!!

  2. jg284481-5-37 says:

    I always thought Gartner was one of the under appreciated players when he played. All the players mentioned in the post that is when I first started following Caps. I think the Caps dont do enough to promote the good/great players from the past.
    Also, I cant get the jersey picture to load.

  3. Sombrero Guy says:

    Call me greedy, but I was hoping for a card stock quality of a reprint of a career retrospective painting, like the caps gave out when they honored Dale Hunter, Rod Langway and the Caps All time 30. I have gotten each of those framed and matted on my office wall. Either way, I am looking forward to the ceremony!

  4. Gustafsson says:

    I’m totally with you Sombrero Guy. I’m about to get my Hunter and Langway posters properly framed. What the hell am I supposed to do with that stupid pin?

  5. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    For those wishing to pass along a congrats to Gartner (or share your favorite memories) check out the Caps’ special page:
    http://capitals.nhl.com/fanzone/mikegartnermemories.htm

  6. Mark Miller says:

    Garts was one of my favorite players, and he doesn’t get enough credit for his charitable work. During his last three seasons, he donated $1,000 to Children’s Hospital for every goal he scored — not a small contribution, considering he scored 115 goals over those years.
    The Capitals Fan Club is making a donation to Children’s Hospital to honor Gartner while also helping a lot of children from our community. You can too, at http://childrensnational.org/give.

  7. Chris says:

    Look… I don’t mean to be That Guy. I really don’t. Love the Caps, go team, and all that… but I’m going to be a downer here.
    Does a team with zero championships really merit four retired numbers? I don’t mean to diminish the contributions of Labre, Langway, Hunter and Gartner, I really don’t. Great players, all. It just seems a bit much.
    Hopefully the Caps will win a cup or two soon, preferably before they raise 12 and 37 up into the rafters.

  8. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    Chris, that’s OK — you’re not the first with that reaction, and you won’t be the last.
    Gartner and Langway, I would posit, are worthy by any measure (Cup or no), and the Hall of Fame certainly agrees. Labre and Hunter were heart-and-soul leader-types, and some might argue it might have been premature to retire those numbers.
    It depends on how important one thinks a jersey retirement really is. For example, I put less than no value on All-Star game appearances, other than perhaps a player’s very first because most players get so excited about it. But All-Star selections are popularity contests that have little relevance.
    Retired sweaters carry more weight than an All-Star selection, but again I don’t assign much importance to it. I would MUCH rather see a Stanley Cup Champion banner in the rafters… whether it’s surrounded by retired numbers or up there alone doesn’t matter to me.

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