Is Jason Chimera the NHL's fastest skater?
When ESPN the Magazine was preparing its Lists issue over the summer, a writer reached out to Caps forward Mike Knuble for help. Among other things, Knuble was asked to name the top goalies in the NHL, the best pizzas, and the fastest skaters.
"I wasn't even in a hockey frame of mind, I had to really sit down and think for a second," Knuble told me. When he did, he came up with a guy who sits directly next to him in the Caps' Ballston dressing room: winger Jason Chimera.
"I didn't really appreciate his skating until I got here," Knuble told me last week, when I asked about that response. "Once he gets going, you can see it....He can fly."
"I think he was a little bit biased," Chimera later joked. "Maybe he was just blowing smoke up my [behind]. I hope not."
Chimera said speed has always been crucial to his game, and always came pretty naturally. Some of this transfers onto solid ground -- he ran some track in middle school, faring best in the sprints, and said he's still a "pretty fast runner" -- but on the ice, it became more impressive.
"I realized right away," Chimera said, when I asked about his speed. "Ever since I was young, I was one of those Tom Thumb guys who could skate by people, just get breakaways and score at will. I knew since then I was fast."
And others weren't shy about pointing this out. In 1998, a Canadian team official told the Montreal Gazette that Chimera was the fastest skater in junior hockey. In 1999, he finished as the second-fastest skater in the WHL skills competition. In 2001, the Edmonton Journal dubbed him the fastest Oiler, and in 2003, he won the team's skills competition in impressive fashion, turning a lap in 13.332 seconds. That became the unofficial fastest lap in NHL history, breaking Mike Gartner's record from the 1986 All-Star game, and players in the Caps dressing room still refer to that moment.
"I wasn't really warmed up," Chimera told the Edmonton Sun after the event. "I thought I was going to blow a hammy out there or something....I never really took power skating or anything. I guess it's just good Ukrainian food. Or maybe it's my hyperness"
He won Edmonton's fastest skater competition again the following season, and as recently as 2008, he finished second to Marian Gaborik in a Sun Media "fastest player" poll of players, scouts, coaches and media members. Chimera said he doesn't remember his best lap time -- "my mom's probably got all the [clips]," he joked -- but while he hasn't timed himself lately, he doesn't think his speed has declined over time.
"When I was young, I kind of went balls-out with nowhere to go, just kind of going like crazy," the 31-year old told me. "Now, I kind of use it more to my advantage, instead of just wasting energy out there. I'm stronger, that's for sure, but my speed hasn't really changed."
And Knuble isn't the only one in the Caps dressing room who's noticed. Karl Alzner, for example, told a story from this year's training camp, where Chimera tried to get a jump on an end-of-session bag skate and wound up 15 meters off the line when the whistle blew.
"So everybody else took off," Alzner recalled. "He skated all the way back, started right from the beginning, and ended up finishing the drill first. And it didn't even look like he was trying that hard. He's just got that stride down. Chimer's got it."
"Just a powerful, powerful skater," Brooks Laich said. "I don't think there's anybody that could beat him in the NHL. He just carries so much speed, and with one, two strides he can be so much further. His legs don't move very fast; just wide strides and powerful. He's as fast as I've ever seen. I would rank him as fast as there's ever been."
Which I guess means if Chimera had to race, say, his locker neighbor, there wouldn't be much of a contest, eh?
"Oh, not even close," Knuble agreed. "Not even close. I'd beat him so bad."
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