Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Love Hockey

Puck Daddy has been running a series over the last month where Wyshy asks folks for five reasons why they love hockey. So, unasked, I was thinking that I would chime in here on my own blog. But, I have to say that it has proven to be a helluva a lot harder of a task then I thought it would be. How the hell do you narrow it down to just five? Hockey is an obsession, a passion, a lifestyle, the perfect confluence of athletic prowess, violence, grace and honour ... I simply couldn't pick five singular things.

Instead, I figured I would pick five games - no, moments in time - that encapsulate that love:

1- October 20th, 2007: Rangers vs. Bruins.
The B's won 1-0 in a shootout but my trip to Boston was still well worth it (even if I was annoyed and exhausted afterwards). Now my fondness for penalty killing is well acknowledged in this space and that afternoon had two incredible plays. Now I can't remember which came first but Marty Straka blocked a Zdeno Chara slap shot, broke his wrist, stayed out on the ice, blocked another shot and finally went to the bench when the puck was cleared. The second instance I found up on YouTube - Marc Savard congratulating Hank for robbing him. Probably the single greatest save I've witnessed live, followed by an honourable act of appreciation by an opponent. And to top it off, Travis Roy did the ceremonial puck drop prior to the game. His story alone makes you appreciate this sport.

2- October 1st, 2008: Rangers vs. Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
At the time I said it felt like a Miracle and a year later it still holds up as an incredible experience. Picture it: Metallurg fans are having the times of their lives waving flags and going crazy as their team went ahead 3-0. Surrounded by quiet German-speaking Swiss, I yell at the Russians that 'we won in Rocky, we'll win here!' And we did! Thanks to Ryan Callahan, who completed the improbable comeback with the game-winner in the final seconds. I. Lost. My. Mind. That kind of euphoria ... words can't do it justice. And all because one hockey team beat another one.

3- September 23rd, 2001: Rangers vs. Flyers.
The second Sunday after 9-11, I went to the second preseason game in the Garden after the attacks. Now, everyone remembers the home opener against the Sabres on October 7th - which was so poignant - but this had it beat, for me at least and I was in the building for both. It was mostly empty on this afternoon but you couldn't tell from the ovations given the firefighters, cops and construction workers when they were shown on Gardenvision. People had signs memorializing the lost - I still get choked up thinking about it. We Ranger fans, and New Yorkers in general, may be (rightly) known for our abrasive, crass nature but when it comes to respecting and honouring our own we get it right, and we do it better than anyone else. The unifying nature of sports is well documented but experiencing it is something different and truly incredible.

4- September 27th, 2006: Rangers vs. Bruins.
This was an unremarkable preseason game that, frankly, I can't remember much of. However, the occasion was personally monumental. It was the first ever game that I took my dad to as a season ticket holder. For that, it will always be special. My first memory as a child - I was maybe three, three and a half years old - is watching a Rangers/Rockies game with my dad, who was yelling 'shoot the puck Barry' at the tv. Years after that my dad worked long hours and was always very busy but he would always sit with me, eat oranges and hard pretzels while we watched Sam and JD on MSG. Every once in a while he would land awesome seats and we would go to the Garden and always came away with a good story - like when I told St. Louis head coach Mike Keenan that he sucked and was a traitor and got a surprised look back, something my dad still laughs about to this day. So this preseason game, when I finally got my season tickets and finally took him to the Garden was pretty special.

5- June 14th, 1994. Rangers vs. Canucks.
The only one of these five games that I wasn't at so I will leave it to the experts: "The waiting is over, the New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup champions!!! And this one will last a lifetime! No more curses, this is unbelievable! These people have waited a long time. Fans, players, coaches ... unbelievable! Let the celebration begin! What a series, two fabulous teams. Vancouver lost and hockey was the winner. For the New York Rangers and their supporters no more 1940, it's gone, congratulations Rangers. The 1994 New York Rangers have done it and for every Ranger who ever put on a uniform, they can stand with pride. What a moment." Thank you Sam, thank you JD ... I couldn't have said it better.

Sure, there have been other great games - when my ex got me great Ranger/Canadien playoff tix, I went to the first Winter Classic, any of those nights with my dad - but these five stand out. Which games have you gone to that stand out?


Daniel said...

Every time I read one of the 5 Reasons articles on Puck Daddy, I always think of two games (besides the most glorious victory of '94). One is game four of the '07 quarterfinals, when the Rangers swept the Thrashers. I'd never been to a game that loud at the Garden and haven't been to one since. Even though the Thrashers didn't put up much of a fight, it was a moment that made me realize that NYR is legit in the post-lockout NHL.

The second moment is Avery's first game back at the Garden with the Rangers this season after his time with the Stars and subsequent suspension. On his first shift of the game, he hopped over the boards, skated cross ice and laid someone out - may have been Hartnell. The place went crazy.

Pete said...

I remember watching the game where Savard got robbed and I remember thinking how awesome it was that he paid Hank some props on the save. I will always think very highly of Savard because of that, and his showing at the All Star Game this past year. I wish the Rangers would land him.

Andrea said...

My 15 year old nephew is a huge NYR fan, stuck in the Hartford area making the most of his chances to watch what happens on the farm. I've been able to take him to the Garden a couple of times annually, but two seasons ago, we hit a jackpot.

His mom (my sister) has a friend who has a connection to Chris Drury, Thus, she had amazing tickets to an NYR/BOS tilt on a Sunday afternoon, I believe. She knew my nephew would love to go and I was delighted that he wanted to go with me.

I knew the seats were good, but it wasn't until we walked allllll the way down to the row right behind the Bruins bench that I understood just where we were--a zip code away from SEC 426!

Sadly, Chara was injured at the time, but good lord that Krecji kid is HUGE! Savard banged his stick in frustration after every shift. Alex Auld was in goal and we watched Tim Thomas as he watched dispassionately from his perch.

At one point, and I'm not sure he knew it, my nephew spoke aloud to no one in particular and stated, "This is the best day of my life."

The game was an 0-0 tie after regulation and OT. We stood and craned our necks as Henrik stoned all the Bs. And we were right there when Nigel Dawes scored the winner!

Sure, there have been better games that I've been to, but who wouldn't love an afternoon spent with a wide-eyed 13 year old kid just happy to put on his jersey, have some popcorn and watch a hockey game live, up close and personal . . .