Now that I’ve had a week to let the disappointing end to a remarkable New York Rangers’ season sink in, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that it was NOT a failure. Actually, I came to that conclusion the second the final buzzer sounded at the end of game seven, and it was clear there would be no eleventh hour, thrilling comeback. We had plenty of those in the 2015 playoffs. We were graced with a plethora of moments that made fans jump up and down like lunatics (at least I know I did) and wonder with awe how in the heck they could pull out a win when it looked like all was lost (Capitals series, anyone?). They were the first team in NHL history to bounce back from a three games to one deficit two years in a row. How anyone – any true fan – can say this season was a failure, is beyond me.
I was talking to a dad at my son’s baseball game about this, shaking my head in disbelief that anyone could actually be such a fair weather fan. And OK, I may have gotten a little riled up. “Have you punched anyone?” he asked with a chuckle. “Maybe punched a wall? You might feel better.”
“I know,” I admitted, “I am really angry at the fans ranting on Twitter and Facebook about this season being a disappointing disaster. Maybe they should be Islanders fans or Capitals fans. Then they’d see what it’s like to experience true heartbreak in the post season.”
Really, think about the success the Rangers have had in the post season compared to those teams. They’ve gone to the Eastern Conference Finals three out of the last four years and last year they played in the Stanley Cup final. Not to kick those other teams when they’re down, but the Islanders haven’t made it out of the first round since 1993. In fact, they’ve been playing golf after the regular season comes to a close far more often in the last two decades than they’ve skated onto the ice for a playoff game. The Capitals, even with Alex Ovechkin’s fire power, haven’t escaped the second round in almost as long. Definitely not in this century – it was 1998. All the fair weather fans lamenting the Rangers’ lack of success in the playoffs would do well to remember those numbers, and be grateful that our team has kept us entertained well into May for more years than not recently.
Even better, the Rangers treat their fans well during the playoffs. They host an amazing, free fan fest that’s more fun than a day at Disney World (at least for my family) – Hockey House. We loved jumping on the train and spending a few hours playing games; watching Blueshirts United Live; taking “virtual selfies” with Rangers player holograms; filming videos of ourselves doing our best Sam Rosen imitation; and best of all hanging out with our favorite person, Rangers announcer John Giannone (notice I didn’t just say announcer – John is really our favorite person). Hockey House is always more fun with John there, even if he is mobbed by autograph and selfie seekers. Below is a photo from during the Capitals series during a quiet moment in between the throngs of selfie seekers:
And here’s a photo with Nicky Fotiu – he remembered us from last year and was just so kind. My fourteen year old self’s head would have exploded at this photo:
Everyone associated with the Rangers organization is just so, so nice. My son lost his drawstring backpack (won that day at Hockey House) with his $50 Rangers sweatshirt in it – a gift from his aunts – and the nicest Madison Square Garden employee, Kirsy, managed to find it the next day. I love the players, yes, but I love the culture of the organization too. Even the attendant in the bathroom at MSG during the games was friendly and sweet. It’s a pleasure going to a game.
In addition to Hockey House, the Rangers run a free program for kids called “Go Skate.” My ten year old had a fantastic time learning to play ice hockey from Rangers alumni Brian Mullen. And, the people running the program are very kind. They gave me a stick for my middle son, because he was recuperating from surgery and couldn’t attend the program. And, one of the guys running the program remembered us at the next event we attended at our town rink, where we got to meet goaltending great Gilles Villemure. I’m grateful that my team is so involved in the community and gives back to fans with fun events, like Hockey House, Go Skate and Blueshirts Boulevard (at which my oldest son was invited to dance on the stage with the band).
There’s more than stats that makes a team worthy of fans’ adoration. There’s heart, character and involvement in the community. The Rangers possess all of those things in abundance. This is why I’ll never turn my back on them – whether they lose a game seven after clawing their way back into a series or don’t even advance at all. Considering all of the injuries that came to light after the playoffs (McDonagh, Staal, Girardi, and Yandle all played beaten and battered- through serious ankle injuries, a torn MCL and a shoulder sprain, respectively) and the very serious and scary injury to Zuccarello, it’s a miracle they made it as far as they did. Zuccarello’s creativity with the puck, speed and precision passes were all sorely missed. Hopefully his skull fracture and brain contusion will heal quickly and he will be back on the ice racking up the points next season.
And, that’s the beauty of hockey – if a team goes deep into the playoffs, the next season is only a few months away. Camp starts in September with a clean slate and second chances. Soon enough I’ll be dreaming of a Stanley Cup in 2016, because I believe in this team. I bleed blue. So, to all of the naysayers calling for blockbuster trades and Glen Sather’s head, chill out. It was a good season, an amazing season even. They were the best team in the NHL, the President’s Trophy winners, until injuries took a toll. And even with those injuries, they were a mere twenty minutes away from reaching the Stanley Cup final two years in a row. They’re so close, it’s only a matter of time. Remember, there’s always next year…
Some photos from this year’s Hockey House activities…
I rarely take car selfies, but this is my prized possession – a baseball hat worn by Henrik Lundqvist during the Rangers Stanley Cup run last year. His number 30 is right on the inside of the brim. An extremely nice man at MSG gave us four hats, all worn by players.