Saturday, April 7, 2012

All the King's Men

Today is the final day of the 2012 NHL regular season. As someone who was first introduced to the great sport of ice hockey by my father when I was just a little boy, I remain of the opinion that if more people had the chance to see it live and in person it would be exponentially more popular than it is presently. While almost all of my hockey consumption is of the televised variety, I recognize that even the best television coverage does an injustice to the game. Ice hockey is a sport best appreciated live. You get a far greater appreciation for the skill and athleticism of the players when you are separated from them by a thin layer of plexiglass than you do on television.

I have less of an explanation as to why - if you are a hockey fan - you are a fan of any team other than the New York Rangers. One possible explanation is that unlike those of us who grew up in the Kenny household, you were raised by Godless Communists. Or perhaps something truly horrible such as Islander fans.

To be a Rangers fan is to pick up the mantle of New York sports fandom tossed down by Brooklyn Dodger fans when their beloved Bums hightailed it west to Chavez Ravine. It is to root completely, wholeheartedly and without reservation - even when the team is owned by a know-nothing like James Dolan and managed to the brink of irrelevancy by a clown like Glen Sather (but for the NHL lockout and the salary cap it brought with it that moron would still be making lavishly horrid free agent signings) - and to embrace the warmth offered by glorious moments like the Stanley Cup in 1994 as protection against the harsh, bitterly cold times....such as every season since.

The Dodgers of Brooklyn had '55. Until its arrival, their fans rallied annually behind cries of "Wait Til Next Year". They were denied the chance to live long off of its memory as Ebbetts Field sat vacant by the time the 1950's had ceded their moment in history to the Sixties. Had they been required to though one suspects they would have long survived on the memory of '55. Brooklyn Dodger fans were hearty souls. Trust me, one of them gave birth to me. I know of which I speak.

For the first time in quite a long time the Rangers - who I have loved since I learned how to spell Stemkowski and Giacomin and since I learned that Gilbert was pronounced "Jill - Bear" and not "Gill - Bert" - finished the regular season as the #1 team in their Conference. While a first-place regular season finish may have no bearing whatsoever as to what happens in the post-season - the NHL having adopted its model of four rounds of "Best 4 out of 7" series from the humanitarians who introduced the Death March to Bataan - it is a worthwhile achievement nonetheless.

When I saw that it has been quite a long time since the Rangers finished in first place, I am not underselling the point at all. It has been eighteen years in fact. The 1994 Cup-winning team was the last Rangers team that accomplished the feat. To put a finer point on it, when the Rangers last achieved this mark O.J. Simpson was still known simply for being a Hall of Fame running back and a bad actor. His descent into infamy would not begin until June 12, 1994 with the murders of his ex-wife and her friend. By that point, the playoffs were almost over. The Rangers would win the Cup two nights later in Game Seven against Vancouver at MSG.

Hell, it last happened so long ago that the last time the Rangers finished the regular season #1 in their conference I had not yet finished my final semester of law school let alone graduated or even sat for the Bar exams in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I do not remember for certain but I am pretty confident that back in April 1994 none of my hair had yet turned gray. It really has been a very long time.

Whether the Broadway Blueshirts are the last team standing at the end of the marathon that is the NHL post-season I know not. Given that they have one of the sport's truly gifted goaltenders between the pipes, they have at the very least a puncher's chance. Henrik Lundqvist - a/k/a "The King" - is always excellent and is often times spectacular.

Whether Lundqvist shall be spectacular for the Rangers in the net during the playoffs I know not. I reckon if he can just be "like Mike", that should be good enough.

See you in the Canyon of Heroes? Hopefully....

....I will be the one munching on the Nedick's hot dog.


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