Tien Le: Are you faster than a hockey player?

Monday, October 7, 2019 - 9:36pm

Tien Le explores if he's faster than a Michigan hockey player.

Tien Le explores if he's faster than a Michigan hockey player. Buy this photo
Design by Lane Kizziah

Have you ever looked down on the the rink at Yost Ice Arena, watching the Michigan hockey team skate from red line to red line and wondered, “Maybe I’m faster than one of the guys on the team?”

Well, the short answer is no.

Odds are, you cannot skate faster than a Division I hockey player. 

And I’ll give you a hint, the long answer is also no, just with more embarrassing insight and head-shaking performances.

On Sunday night, immediately after the exhibition game against Windsor, the Wolverines hosted a “Skate With the Wolverines” event. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but in case you’re as slow on the uptake as I was on the ice, players met with fans in the rink to take pictures and sign autographs.

Except for me. I didn’t wait in line to ask for pictures or autographs. I made my way to the unsuspecting players, asking for just one thing — speed.

***

To give you some context on how fast the players were in our race, I’ll tell you about my skating ability first, for a point of comparison.

I’m going to be honest and say straight up, I’m an average skater — and I work at an ice rink. 

In Memphis, Tenn., though, where I’m from, there were no nearby ice rinks. Before 2011, when a local suburb built an ice house about an hour away, the closest rink was a two-hour drive to Mississippi.

So my first time ice skating was December of my freshman year at Michigan, during a public skate session of Yost. I went on a weekly basis my sophomore and junior year and got pretty decent.

And to give you an even better read, I went back out to Yost Monday to time myself in peak conditions — no breakfast, no lunch, and no sleep. Averaged on three attempts, here were my times:

From blue line to blue line: 3.38 seconds.

From the tip of the face-off circle to the far blue line: 4.70 seconds.

A full lap around the rink: a mere 21.07 seconds.

The fastest lap time with a standing start in the NHL is Connor McDavid’s 13.31 seconds. I guess you can say I’m pretty elite.

***

The people behind the skate rental booth pointed to the hallway at the entrance of the arena.

“We left all the skates over there,” they said, in spite of my pleas that I couldn’t find them.

I had dropped off my pair of CCM skates at the booth before the game, and anticipating that the players would be preoccupied with the fans until the end, I waited until the last five minutes of the open skate before making my way down. 

But I couldn’t find my skates.

By the time the workers found them, there was only one minute running on the overhead clock — indicating the time left for the event. I threw on my skates and made my way to the ice. 

Out of breath and out of time, I start circling around looking for the perfect prey. 

I stopped in front of goaltender Jack Leavy and looked up. My fellow Daily hockey writers were camped at the top of the press box on floor five and had been peering over the ledge to watch me.

“Him?” I mouthed to them, pointing in his direction.

One of them shook their head. Smart. He’s 6-foot-5; those strides would be lethal.

I then shifted my attention to senior goaltender Hayden Lavigne. Again, I pointed and looked up quizzically. 

Two of them crossed their arms to make an ‘X.’ Smart. He’s 6-foot-3; still too tall for comfort.

Then my eyes laid on Strauss Mann. Three thumbs up from my co-writers carried me to the front of the line where I challenged him to a race.

“Hey, yo listen,” I explained to him. “I lost a bet with my editors, and so now I have to ask one of y’all to race me and write a story on it. You cool with that?”

That was a lie, by the way. But he looked at me confusingly before seeing the credential I pointed to. He then nodded in understanding before smiling.

“Wow, so you ask the goalie?” he retorted. “Alright, give me a moment.”

He finished up taking pictures before skating to the blue line.

“Alright, let’s do blue line to blue line,” Mann said, pointing end to end.

I guess he wasn’t ready for that full ice lap. People often tell me I can be intimidating on open ice. And it probably didn’t help that while Mann was getting ready, I kept telling to Alex, the Daily photographer next to me, that I was the greatest of all time.

But we lined up on the blue line and readied ourselves. And then we raced.

Stride for stride, I honestly held my own. To be fair, Mann had to race after a game, in full pads and maybe (definitely) didn’t put full effort, but I’ll take a win.

We crossed mid-ice at the same rate, but it’s the second half where I always make my mark. With four strides, I pushed my way past Mann to beat him by centimeters. He leaned forward and stretched out his hand, but to no avail.

I was a winner.

Curling around the ice with me, he stretched out his hand, again, this time for a fist bump.

“I’m tired from the game,” Mann said.

I let him leave with his dignity, of course. Feeling a little bit more confident in myself, I spotted my next victim. Jake Slaker was leaning against the opposing bench. I looked up again for affirmation and was met with vicious nodding.

“Hey Jake, how are you feeling about a race?” I ask.

“Sure thing, just let me tie my skates,” Slaker said.

He skated to the side and bent over to tie his skates.

“Am I letting you win?” Slaker said, smiling.

“Nah, go all out,” I said. “All out.”

“Like should I give you a head start and then beat you, or should…?” Slaker said .

“All out.”

At first, we had decided on a full lap, with different start points, but after realizing how it would turn out, we both agreed to a blue-line-to-blue-line race — for me. Slaker would start from the top of the faceoff circle, a maybe-20 foot handicap.

“Let me know when to go,” Slaker said after the two of us lined up.

“Alright. 3. 2. 1,” I said. “ Go.”

It took him 3.36 seconds to beat me. He closed half the gap by the time we crossed mid-ice, and in the last few strides, he passed me, curling around with a smile.

“That all you need?” he asked.

Yeah, he had answered my question.

Le can be reached at tntle@umich.edu or on Twitter at @tientrle.