By: Ethan Illers
The great game of hockey, all fans love it and hate it at the same time. When their team does well, fans are celebrating and many of them turn into people that they aren’t supposed to be. Kind and gentle people become obnoxious and aggressive, hostile fans when their team’s grinding and fighting, and for the most part, doing well. Admit it. We’ve all turned into abnormal humans because of hockey. And if there’s one thing I can be sure about, that’s one of the reasons why we all love the fastest game played on two feet. Hockey is unlike any other sport; the emotion and heart it brings to players, coaches, organizations and fans is something unique about the game of the hockey.
How does one react when they’re team is like the New York Rangers, or in this case, IS the New York Rangers? Having grown up in New York City, I’ve been a Ranger fan for as long as I can remember. I immediately fell in love with the game of hockey and the Rangers right after watching my first game. It was a rerun of the Rangers playing the New York Islanders. I forget what game it was, but it must’ve been a very important one considering how the Rangers celebrated after the horn sounded to signal the end of the third period. Then I was able to watch my first actual game at my kitchen table: Rangers vs. Buffalo Sabres from Madison Square Garden. I remember the game vividly as the Rangers scored a goal only ten seconds into the first period! I also remember all the hype and praise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was getting from the analysts and I remember them saying that Lundqvist is going to be something special. Henrik now has the most wins, shutouts and saves in franchise history. Boy those guys weren’t lying. The final score? Rangers-5 Sabres-0. I’ve attended many Ranger games at Madison Square Garden since then and have loved every single one of them, win or lose.
As I’ve matured, I’ve seen the Rangers change head coaches and I’ve seen players come and go. The Rangers have come so close to hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994 in the last four seasons. I’ve been through lots of heartbreak.
Yes, I remember when the season came down to one game to decide who goes to the playoffs, the Rangers or the Flyers? Philadelphia won in a shootout.
Yes, I remember Adam Henrique scoring the overtime goal in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final in 2012, sending the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final over the Rangers. I remember exactly what I was doing that night as well. My father, good friend and I were at the New York Mets game as they defeated the San Diego Padres. During the game, they provided us with live updates of Game Six. I wasn’t feeling great when we got the announcement that the Rangers were down 2-0. However I got a good feeling when they announced that the Rangers had scored and were trailing 2-1. I had a great feeling when they announced that the Rangers had scored again and had tied the game and Citi Field was erupting after that. We followed the rest of the third period in the car coming home from the Mets game and heard that the game was entering overtime. I got back to my dad’s apartment and turned on the television right as the puck was dropping. After some great chances from both sides, it happened. Henrique found the lose puck and put it past Lundqvist to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final. Heartbroken? I was.
I remember getting shutout 2-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning last year in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final at the Garden. I was attending the high school graduation of three of my good friends and then I went to dinner with one of my graduating friends and his family. We caught the game from the restaurant and were more concentrated on the game then the menu in front of us, the table conversation and of course, the fact that my friend just graduated from high school. I remember both teams had numerous chances, but either side scored no goals. My friend and I’s reaction to the chances were kind of loud and disturbing; we were certainly making a scene in that Italian restaurant. With our stomachs stuffed with gourmet appetizers, entrees and desserts, we called it a night right as the second period concluded. I then raced home for the start of the third. With around ten minutes left to go, Tampa drew first blood. I wasn’t worried yet because there was still plenty of time, but I was nervous. Then the Lightning added an insurance goal not long after they scored the first and then it hit me. The Rangers were going to miss the Stanley Cup Final. As the final seconds winded down on the series and the Rangers season, you could’ve heard a pin drop from the other side of my kitchen. It was silent. I was heartbroken again, watching the Lightning celebrate while the Rangers looked exhausted and crushed. I have lots of respect for the Lightning and still do to this day. I liked the classiness they showed during the handshake line; absolutely nothing negative was said by either side. Still, it hurt me badly.
And yes, I remember losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings. That was a Cinderella season as the Rangers were down three games to one against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. Then Martin St. Louis’s mother died and the Rangers rallied behind him. They came all the way back and beat Pittsburgh in Game Seven in the steel city to go to the Eastern Conference Final. They then took down Montreal in six games. I remember being outside the Garden with my good friend and a bunch of Ranger fans, watching the game on the jumbo tron. When St. Louis scored the overtime goal, we went insane. They lost Game Five in Montreal but returned to the Garden for Game Six and beat Montreal 1-0. I remember being in my room watching and when I heard Doc Emrick announce, “The Rangers are going to the final!” it was a feeling I never had before. I was so excited. After losing the first three games, I pretty much knew the Rangers weren’t going to win, but I still had hope. The Rangers won Game Four and headed back to LA for that fateful Game Five. I remember Alec Martinez scoring the overtime goal, putting the rebound past Lundqvist, who collapsed to the ice like a beached whale after the puck was put in by Martinez. I was heartbroken. I was at my dad’s apartment watching that entire game and never felt a more empty feeling in my life. I even remember I had the ACT exam the next day and wasn’t looking forward to that at all.
After years of watching the Rangers, I’ve come to realize that they are very unpredictable. This now raises the question-“Who are the New York Rangers?”
Based on the last few seasons, you never know what you’re going to get from this hockey club. They can go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final as the six seed and can choke as the one seed. This year especially, I can definitely say that the Rangers are very unpredictable and I never know what I’m going to get out of them when they step foot on to the ice. They appear to always make changes that work. They bought out Brad Richards; that worked out. They traded for Martin St. Louis and got to the Stanley Cup Final; that worked out. This year they traded for forward Eric Staal. They also decided not to trade impending unrestricted free agent defenseman Keith Yandle. Staal recently scored his first goal as a Ranger and retaining Yandle has paid dividends as he’s stepped up big time and produced mightily in the past few weeks.
The Rangers can beat the Washington Capitals and lose to the New Jersey Devils. That shows the unpredictability of the team. You truly never know what you’re going to get out of them every single game. One minute or one game I’m ecstatic and one minute or one game I’m pulling my hair out.
Playoff time is my favorite as there’s nothing like playoff hockey. The playoffs are always packed with emotion and intensity and the feeling is indescribable. I remember being outside Madison Square Garden with my good friends and a whole bunch of Ranger fans, watching when Game Seven of last year’s Conference Semi-Finals rolled around. The Rangers had come back from 3-1 down for the second consecutive year and faced the Washington Capitals in Game Seven. When the game headed to overtime, my friends, the Ranger fans around us and myself all felt an overwhelming rush of energy and anxiety all rolled into one. Then overtime started and let me tell you, when Derek Stepan put the rebound into the net past Braden Holtby, we erupted. We were jumping, yelling, screaming, high-fiving and hugging strangers left and right, but they were Ranger fans so they were family in a sense.
It goes to show that you never know about hockey. It’s all about momentum, especially when the homestretch of the regular season rolls around and when the playoffs start. I feel very confident that the Rangers will make the playoffs, but how far they go is up to them to decide. No matter what happens, I know they’ll do one of two things. They’ll either make me really happy or break my heart again. But, I’ve endured heartbreak and happiness before and it all makes it part of the experience of being a fan. No matter what happens, it’ll never affect my love for the New York Rangers, and probably most importantly, the game of hockey.