Well, I certainly never thought I’d be writing this post. The Rangers return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994 when Richter, Leetch, Messier, Graves and company became legends for slaying dragons, making guarantees, but most importantly — getting the job done. It still amazes me to think that it has been 20 years.
I first started following the Rangers in 1988, the same season Brian Leetch was a rookie. My old man worked for a construction company, which had seats by the old Bud Light sign near the away team tunnel. I still have tickets to my first game that season. It was against the Devils and they were $67.
After watching games on TV with my dad, I remember walking down the stairs to our seats and being blown away at how vivid all the Rangers jerseys were and how gold the Garden ceiling was. Standard TV in those days just did not do the hockey experience justice.
The Garden crowd was thunderously loud back then. I remember fights breaking out in our area and police escorting drunken fans out of the building. I can’t imagine that happening in those prime seats these days. It seemed like chaos was everywhere in those crowds.
Though, my father seemed immune to it all. His eyes were just fixated on the play. That’s when I started to learn how to be the hockey fan that I am today. It didn’t matter what was going on around us, what the papers were saying, etc. Just watch the damn game.
When the Rangers won in 1994, I was ecstatic. Not because I had been following the team for all these years, but because I knew what it meant to my old man. Being so close to seeing a Cup in the 70’s followed by the Islanders run in the early 80’s must have been a tough pill to swallow. Then I learned the way he did, what it was like to feel the pain of being a Rangers fan. Eight years without a playoff berth.
The crash and burn of Theo Fleury. Messier in a Canuck jersey. The Mike York trade. Trottier’s penmanship. Tom Poti being called the next Brian Leetch. The Brian Leetch trade. The ending of Mike Richter’s career. The plight of Sather’s free agencies. Mike Dunham. College was a fun four years, but following the Rangers at that time, not so much. I don’t know how I managed to listen to half of those eight dark seasons on early versions of internet radio. Oh the buffering.
It’s been a long road back up the mountain. The Czechs have come and gone. The Black and Blueshirts are but a memory. Egos have been crushed. Reset buttons have been pressed again, and again, and again. Finally were close to the pinnacle once more. Whether or not this series ends like the triumph of 1994 or like the forgetful heartbreaks of 1972 and 1979 remains to be seen.
All of these trades and moves that Sather has made these past few years could go down as his final hours being his finest, or they could just be another page in the history books. We might look back at Martin St. Louis as a savior as Messier was, or he could just be Phil Esposito, doing wonders in his late 30s, but just not enough to get us over the hump. Lundqvist could be Richter or he could be Eddie Giacomin. There’s a small but critical difference between being great and being the greatest.
Either way, no matter what happens these next two weeks. Ignore all the nice narratives. Ignore all the critics. Forget all the chaos around you. Just watch the damn game."Rangers fans walk the long road",