Saturday, April 21, 2012

R is for the NY Rangers

One of the ways I kinda sorta break gay stereotypes is that I like sports.  There are reasons for that, which I can delve into another time, but let’s just say I've spent many a time watching my favorite NY teams from all the major sports.  I love the baseball Yankees, the basketball Knicks, and the football Jets, but there’s one team that has my whole heart and soul, and that’s the NY Rangers.

The New York Rangers are New York City’s hockey team, one of three area teams that play in the NHL.  They are one of the six original franchises to play in the league, starting in 1926 at Madison Square Garden, where they still play today.  The team started off great, having the league’s best record in their first season and winning their first of four Stanley Cups, the league championship trophy, in their second. 

Let’s Go Rangers!

The Rangers have had plenty of ups and downs along the years, and in the process they’ve built up an impressive army of some of the most devoted and rabid fans of any team, in any sport.  Going to a Ranger game is an experience like no other, and I’ve been witness to several people who’ve gone into the Garden to catch one with little or no interest beforehand and come out converted and bleeding Ranger blue.

Hockey, in my opinion, is the most exciting sport around.  Where baseball and football can be slow-moving, and a whole basketball game can be watched in the last two minutes, hockey is non-stop action from buzzer to buzzer that’s almost guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat for a good portion of the game. 

Watching a hockey game with 19,000 other fans at MSG makes it even more exciting, and that energy I spoke of the other night, that NYC energy, is always strongly present.  The cheers that erupt after a goal, the “oohs and aahs” after near misses, the collective sighs at opposing goals and the thunderous “Let’s Go Rangers” chants all give the home team a boost like no other, and the team members take notice.  After each home game, all of the players take to the center ice to turn to the crowd and salute their supporters.  Pretty cool, huh?  The love is definitely mutual!

Potvin Sucks!

New Yorkers have a reputation for being loud and boisterous people, and there’s no doubt that Ranger games at Madison Square Garden have confirmed that notion.  Opposing teams have had to bear the wrath of rabid Ranger lovers for years, and area adversaries the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have had to experience the worst of it.  Rivalries between the teams have been intensified over the years by fierce, competitive games nearly every time, and plenty of tight playoff series’ over the years.   

The Islanders have been undoubtedly the Rangers’ fiercest rivals ever since they built an early dynasty in their history to show up their older sibling team.   I first started to take interest in the Rangers during a playoff run in 1979 in which they faced the Islanders in the semifinals.  The Rangers hadn’t won a Cup in 39 years, fueling the dreaded chant that greeted them whenever they visited an opponent’s building.  They went on to beat the Islanders in a thrilling, seven-game series, but lost in the finals to the Montreal Canadiens in five. 

The “1940, 1940” chorus began and was always the most vicious at the Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders play.  That taunting mantra fed into a rivalry between the teams’ fans that was as intense as that of the teams themselves.  In 1979, Rangers’ fans got to make up their own chant during a game in February.

For years, Islanders’ Hall of Fame defenseman Dennis Potvin was a thorn in the Rangers’ side.  One of the most vital members of the Islanders’ impressive four-year run at the Stanley Cup in the early 80’s, he was always a hated adversary at the Garden.  In February of that year, Potvin inspired a chant from the rafters at MSG that endured for years after he had retired.  On February 2th, 1979, Potvin gave what many thought was a dirty check to Rangers’ star forward Ulf Nilsson, which ended up with the latter suffering a broken ankle.  Nilsson’s career was ended and Ranger fans were pissed! 

“Potvin sucks!” was the reaction of the Rangers’ faithful, and that ever-present chant has never gone away.  To this day, especially during a Rangers-Islanders game at MSG, fans will suddenly burst out into “Potvin sucks” mode at virtually any time, just to voice their dislike of the opposing team.  Check out a little clip about the famous, 30-plus year-old chant here:


 Being a Rangers fan is a labor of love.  For years, Ranger fans suffered losing seasons with sometimes heartbreaking endings and that dreaded “1940” chant was an achingly consistent reminder of the “curse,” a widely believed myth that the team had been cursed to not win a championship in that long of a time.  That all changed in 1994, when the NY Rangers, led by Captain Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Mike Richter and company, went on to win both the President’s Trophy for having the best regular season record and the long-awaited Stanley Cup.  The so-called “curse” was over and the Rangers were the pride of New York. 

(Check out a piece I did on that championship season right here.)


Right now the Rangers are in the playoffs and hopes for the Stanley Cup are at the highest they’ve been since that championship year in 1994.  Led by team captain Ryan Callahan, new Rangers’ players have given the city something to be excited and hopeful about.  Players such as All-Star goaltender Hendrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and others hope to recapture the glory that the Rangers haven’t felt in already 18 years, and right now things are already tense.

The Rangers won the Regular Season Eastern Conference title with 109 points and are thus the top seed, playing the 8th place Ottawa Senators with home-ice advantage in a best of seven series.  At the moment, the series is tied at two games apiece, but the two Ranger losses were both tough ones, both come from behind wins for Ottawa, and both were lost in overtime, including the last one in Ottawa.  Ranger fans like me have learned to be cautious with our hopes, and tomorrow night’s Game 5 showdown is gonna be critical, for sure, but I dunno, I got a good feeling about this year.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

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