Friday, September 30, 2011
Preseason: Rangers 4, Frolunda 2
Swedish Elitserien fans aren't likely to enjoy this analogy but they are not unlike the diehard fans of collegiate or major junior hockey. Win or lose, they are fiercely proud of their boys. And when those boys move on to other teams in other leagues, that pride does not go away. When I went to Everett ahead of the Vancouver Olympics, the Silvertips fans came up to talk to me about Ivan Baranka - where he was, how he was doing. He was one of theirs. They were saddened to hear that he couldn't make it in the NHL but were happy he tried because, gosh darn it, he was one of their boys. Now take that pride and multiply it. Then multiply it again, and again, and again. And maaaayyyyybe then you have reached the sheer adoration that Gothenburg hockey fans have for Henrik Lundqvist.
Their passion for the boy they watched become a King was rewarded on Friday when the Rangers came to town. Hank turned back into Henke as the Frolunda folks were able to bask in their pride and joy one more time. They sang, they clapped, they made him hop. And they had a helluva time doing it. That their team lost was utterly inconsequential. That our team won was just as inconsequential.
The Rangers' fourth line and the top three lines of the Connecticut Whale showed up to face Frolunda and escaped with a weak 4-2 victory. The Blueshirts were sloppy, they were slow, they were undisciplined. But they brought Henke home and that is all that mattered - to everyone. A happy King will be a good King this coming campaign and you could tell Lundqvist was loving the limelight. Sure he also seethed when he gave up the two goals but hey, no one was smiling more at the end so who cares?
While it would be nice to wrap things up there, I did come all the way to Gothenburg so I guess I will throw some observations out there:
*As you surely saw, Hank wore an A - which was AWESOME. Honestly, how many of you are getting one stitched on your sweaters now? I would if I had a Lundqvist to put it on.
*You might not have seen that when they called Ryan Callahan to come over and take the ceremonial faceoff, Hank reached over and said something to Boyle (the other A wearer) before tapping him towards the carpet. Our goalie may not wear a letter regularly but make no mistake, he is a leader on this team.
*And even he needs some reassurance sometimes. Just as he surely was getting a bit overwhelmed by the pregame ceremony, Sean Avery skated over and gave him a pat. That's what friends are for.
*The Scandinavium is still McArena with the Golden arches everywhere but they did add a Subway franchise inside so at least they now believe in healthy alternatives.
*In Prague they sold special one-game-only tee shirts, scarves and banners. Here they just had the generic NHL Premiere merch that you can buy on NHL.com. I was hoping for a Henke Comes Home line.
*Frolunda fans really love to do the wave. Prompted by the PA announcer, twice they did the wave and it went around the arena several times before stopping.
*Frolunda fans have no patience for commercial breaks or, as it was announced 'media breaks.' They booed and whistled several times when the shovels came out at stoppages.
*They also expressed their unhappiness for the scratching of the Rangers' non-Lundqvist stars, the fact that it wasn't a total sell-out (but close) and Sean Avery. No surprise there on any of those counts.
*Hope Sean is alright, the replay in the building made it look like he was kicked in the face and he didn't play a single shift in the third period.
*Was told to calm down by a Swedish fan next to me when I got worked up over the penalties the Rangers were taking because 'our power play, not so good, you have no worries, relax.' He was right, the poor guy.
*Believe it or not, everyone around me seemed impressed with Erik Christensen. Perfect, they can have him. He is perfect for them - he can dangle to his heart's desire and get away with being defensively deficient and soft as a pillow in the Elitserien.
*For the second straight game I met up with other fans from New York and even some season ticket holders (section 402 represent!). We Blue Bloods are passionate people too, even if we don't sing or do the wave.
*Late hits: MDZ was woeful one day after I gave him praise. Carl Hagelin and Tim Erixon both had a few good moments but definitely need work. Brendan Bell keeps showing how comfortable he is on the big ice. I like yelling STUUUUUUUUU every time Bickel hits someone. Kris Newbury's shot that opened the scoring was sad, it seemed to wobble its way into the upper corner. Brian Boyle was definitely still suffering from flu-like symptoms - he was in bad shape getting back to the bench after all of that penalty killing, and that was before he got a shot to the head. His linemate Brandon Prust is the man - 'nuff said. Ryan Bourque continues to surprise with strong play. Dale Weise ... did he even play? McIlrath was sucked into a tussle with a Frolunda player and took a penalty - he needs to mature. I felt bad for the Frolunda backup as he gave up a goal on the first shot he faced. I mentioned it up top, Hank hopped. The Frolunda fans chanted something like 'we want to see you jump' and he gave a little hop, once in the first and once in the third. It was hilarious and great at the same time to see him respond.
The Rangers have Saturday off to go around Gothenburg before heading to Bratislava Sunday. I will not be at that one as I go right to Switzerland but I am hoping to catch a feed to do a wrap-up. No guarantees. If I was to do Scotty Hockey Three Stars then they would be 3-Henke, 2-Henke and 1-Henke - it was his night.