Picture it: it’s a beautiful late spring day in New York City, sundress weather, lunchtime in Midtown with tons of people relaxing in the middle of another work day. All of a sudden, you get a text. Then another. And another, followed by NHL alerts. Your coach has just been fired after a slaughter of an exit from the Eastern Conference Semi’s in five games.
If you’re a diehard Rangers fan, you respond in one of two ways: joyous applause or incredulous anger and questioning. If you’re this girl, it’s the second. Of all the things that came out of my mouth while walking to grab lunch that day, some examples are: How could they do this? Why is Sather’s job safe but no coach can get a break? Who the [expletive] will replace him? They’re gonna hire some scrub and the Rangers’ talent is gonna go to waste. I adored John’s passion and fire, and I thought his gritty style of coaching was #therightway. Maybe because my greatest coaches have been like that, maybe cause hockey just seems so hard.
Naturally the next few days are hard, and naturally (for me) with the hiring of Alain Vigneault came the irrational hate. I asked why they would go to the opposite of Tortorella, who, in five seasons with the Rangers, brought them to the playoffs four times. I wondered which Ranger hated him so much and had enough pull to get him fired. I wondered how bad the locker room really was and how physically exhausted the boys were to feel suck relief. I wondered if Brad Richards was too busy fishing to be working out for next season or if he’d be bought out.
Then the regular season arrived. Excited at the prospect of something new, yet still salty at the loss of (what I still believe to be) the most entertaining coach of all time (save for Bobby Valentine and his disguise, but that’s a whole other story), the slaughter faced was not fun. I cried for Torts. I wept at the indifference AV showed in his pressers. He didn’t seem to care, the team didn’t seem to care, so why should the fans care? But we did, cause we’re suckers, and cause we love the sport.
As the season wore on, I started to grow fond of AV’s casual swagger, smirking in pressers and teasing the media. I wondered if this is what it was like to have a positive relationship with the mercurial New York media. I was fortunate enough to sit behind the Rangers bench for their final home game this season, and I analyzed AV more than I watched the game for the first period. He rarely loses his cool, but it is obvious he’s locked in and behind his players. They want to listen to him, and he wants to guide them in a calm manner. I felt safe there, and started doubting why I ever disliked him.
Playoffs have turned that ‘like’ into ‘adoration’ and ‘love.’ As a fairly new Rangers fan (my first season obsessively watching the team was 2008-09), I’d never seen such cohesive team play. Since Pittsburgh game 5, it seems as though the team is playing telepathically. They see each other, they understand where the passes will go, and perhaps most importantly, they see how their efforts will play out. They are cool, calm and collected in interviews, never getting too high on themselves, knowing they’ve still got a ways to go before hoisting glory. I fully believe that this quiet confidence has been instilled in them in a huge way by their head coach.
Their faith in enduring the storms of the playoffs – Montreal opened last night exactly as we’d expect them to – and in playing their game in a humble fashion is impeccable. We don’t have a crystal ball, but it’s hard to imagine anybody doesn’t feel incredible about this team right now. I could watch AV’s presser after the team attended Martin St. Louis’ mother’s funeral a thousand times on loop. He understands respect, he understands relationships, he understands patience, and hopefully he will understand what it’s like to be the ultimate winner in the NHL as the New York Rangers head coach."Confessions of a Former AV Hater",