SUN Hockey Pool

What a rush!

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Eric Nystrom's words following the Calgary Flames skills competition yesterday sum up the team's successful season so far.

"Speed kills," said the winger, who clocked a time of 13.969 in the fastest skater event.

But Nystrom was third out of the six Flames who took part, just three-hundreths of a second behind burner Matthew Lombardi.

Lombardi was dethroned by newcomer Curtis Glencross, who ticked off the more than 14,000 fans in attendance even more quickly than he skated his lap when he mentioned his performance in the event last year with the Edmonton Oilers.

"That was funny," said Glencross afterward. "I think I was a little faster there last year in Edmonton, and said that out there today. Got a little boo out of it, but it was good.

"Hopefully, they're doing it for the team and not me."

Glencross has no worries there. The fans love him for many reasons. His forechecking, his penalty killing, and, of course, his quick feet. It's a big factor in the Flames' first-half success this season.

"We've got a lot of speed," said Glencross. "You look at every line, those guys can fly out there. It's nice to know you're so deep with that."

Lombardi, Glencross and Nystrom were tops yesterday, but others such as Dustin Boyd and Michael Cammalleri are no slouches, and Rene Bourque recorded a 14.044.

The Flames blueline was represented by Mark Giordano (14.427), but Dion Phaneuf has wheels, too.

Up front, however, is where speed is making the biggest difference within the system for a team that owns a 25-12-4 record at the halfway point.

"It's huge, especially with the style that we play," said Nystrom. "It's an aggressive type of game. If you can get on a defenceman with speed, you can create so many turnovers and create offence from that."

That includes during penalty kills. Nystrom's season highlight was a shorthanded breakaway goal against the Minnesota Wild that proved to be the game-winner.

Bourque has also scored during 4-on-5 action, as has Craig Conroy, who still has pretty good wheels for a 37-year-old veteran. Prospect Mikael Backlund is a potential future winner of the team's fastest-skater event.

He took part in his first skills competition yesterday before being sent to the WHL's Kelowna Rockets and showed potential despite a lack of appreciation for the rules.

"I did it wrong," said Backlund, who darted inside the first pylon on his way to an illegal 14.159 on his first run. "It was a big mistake for me. I got pretty tired after that, so the last one was tough."

Glencross' time is just a few hundreths off the official NHL record of 13.510 set by Mike Gartner in 1993.

His secret? Todd Bertuzzi's shoulder pads, which he returned to the proper stall afterwards.

"That was the plan," he said after hanging the thin, old borrowed cushions.

"They said you had to have shoulder pads on, they didn't say how big they had to be. Good thing Bert's got some real skimpy ones for me."


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