Off the Bench – 5 Questions for Hall of Fame NHL forward Mike Gartner

Off the Bench – 5 Questions for Hall of Fame NHL forward Mike Gartner


Until this season, only seven players had scored over 700 goals in NHL history, fittingly, they are joined by No. 8.

With every shot that Alex Ovechkin rips past a hapless goalie, he climbs higher in the record books and breaths life into the legacy of prolific players that have come before him, as well as the ones that lie ahead.

Next on the list is Mike Gartner at 708. He, like Ovi is now, was a scoring machine over 19 seasons, which began with the Washington Capitals in 1979-80.

Over his career, he netted 30 or more goals in a season 17 times, which currently stands as an NHL record. Along the way, he won the Canada Cup twice (1984, ’87), was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2001 and had his jersey (No. 11) retired by the Caps in 2008.

These days Gartner is a businessman who co-owns National Training Rinks (NTR) and has his hand in two other ventures with partner and fellow NHL alumnus Wes Jarvis.

As Ovi nears Gartner’s mark, the 60-year-olds’s phone is buzzing with media requests.

He took time out to speak with Bridgit about not only hockey, but how construction and engineering factor into his businesses.

Bridgit: Does watching Ovechkin climb the goal-scoring leaderboard give you a new appreciation for what you did in your career?

Mike Gartner: That’s an interesting perspective. You kind of know that it’s special when you are going through it when you get to certain levels, that 700 level, just because so few players have gotten there. Then when you see some great goal scorers who have come along, that don’t get there. Obviously Ovi is going to get there and surpass it by a margin in my opinion, it does give you a new perspective on just how difficult it is to score that many goals and Ovi is making it look kind of easy right now, and it’s not easy (laughs).

I think the Caps having two 700-goal scorers is pretty cool for the fans and for the organization.

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Bridgit: You have stated in the past that you had to change your style of scoring about halfway through your career. Why was that? Has Ovechkin had to do the same?

MG: The reason why I changed and found different ways to score was simply because goaltenders started to play differently, they started to play in a butterfly position, the holes were different. Instead of your traditional four corners and 5-hole, there became what I called the 16-hole or 22-hole (laughs), places like the creases under their arms. You didn’t have the same success shooting from angles.

I was looking for speed and then I stopped scoring as many goals going down the wing and I thought, “I gotta’ get to the dirty areas a little bit more.”

The last number of years in my career, I played in front of the net on the power play and I scored a lot of goals, tipping, rebounds things like that, which weren’t typical goals for me early.

I look at somebody like Ovi, who is known for the one-timer on his off-wing on the power play. He still scores like that, but he scores a lot of goals now in front of the net too, he is scoring some tip-in goals, some rebound goals, goals off bad angles. He has found different ways to score as well as his traditional ways we would recognize him for, like his trademark one-timer.

Bridgit: Does the openness of the current game remind you of when you got going in the 1980s? How would you fare in the current NHL?

MG: There’s differences, it’s more difficult to score now in general than it was in the 80s for instance. A big part of that is because the goalies take up more of the net, they are bigger, they have more padding on, they have more protection on. Guys also block shots, before you had shot blockers, now everybody is a shot blocker. It’s tougher to get the puck through now, so in general it’s tougher to score goals.

However, I think the guys nowadays don’t have to battle through the hooks and chops and all the things that we had to battle through, so it’s a bit of a balance. It’s easier in some ways to play and it’s tougher in some ways to play and I think overall, it’s a little more difficult to score goals although goal scoring is up and I think that that’s a good thing.

I think I’d fare pretty well, it was always my game, the skating part of it. We all had to pretty much carry somebody down the ice through the natural zone. Getting free reign through the neutral zone, there was no such thing. It was like going through a barbed wire fence. Yeah, it would be fun to play in this era.

Bridgit: Can you explain what type of business ventures you are involved with and how they relate to construction and engineering?

MG: They all do, because all the businesses I’m in are real estate backed assets and they have buildings. A former teammate of mine, Wes Jarvis and I started a hockey arena business back in 1995 that is still running in its 25th year. We came up with the concept of building ¾ size ice-hockey arenas that were more conducive to (kids) learning. We felt that hockey was way behind other sports, the major sport in the world was soccer, and soccer took their younger kids and they developed them on smaller fields, with smaller nets, and they did a lot of skill development. We took our 5-year old kids and put them on an NHL sized rink, gave them full size nets with full size pucks and told them to just grow into all that stuff. We now have three locations (in Ontario), one in Barrie, one in Newmarket and one in Richmond Hill. We bought the land, we built the buildings based on the specifications that we though were right for this type of a game and we still run those facilities with NTR.

Bridgit: Were the construction and/or engineering elements of your businesses a challenge for you at the beginning?

MG: The way we looked at it, we were instantly experts in one thing and that was hockey. We took our expertise and we realized and thought that we can learn the business part of it, but it’s pretty tough to learn the hockey part of it, we did something we knew and we learned the business along the way.

We knew what we thought we wanted, what was necessary for an arena, then we turned it over to qualified people to come up with plans, but we went back and forth with those plans a lot of times before we got it right. We could walk through the blueprint with the floor plan and the designs and know what wasn’t in the right spot, that door is not in the right area and this or that is going to be a problem. We were able to work out what we thought were a lot problems along the way before we even started building.

Lauren Lake

Lauren Lake is the COO and co-founder at Bridgit. She holds a degree in Civil Structural Engineering and is well-versed in construction workforce management and resource planning processes. Lauren has been named to the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30 and Best Of Canada Forbes Under 30 Innovators lists. Lauren has presented at industry events and conferences, including BuiltWorlds, Canadian Construction Association, Procore Groundbreak, and more.

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