Sunday, April 28, 2013

Forever Half Full

By far, the best shared element of my relationship with my father, which relationship ended with his death when I was fourteen, was our shared passion for the New York Rangers.  Truth be told, the passion was his.  He passed it down.  Given his proclivity against inviting anyone in for any reason, the simple act of him sharing it was nothing short of extraordinary.  

I still smile thinking of our Sunday night treks into Madison Square Garden - because back in the day the Rangers traditionally played on Sunday nights, which began always with the drive to the train station in New Brunswick.  Once there, we boarded a New Jersey Transit train for "Penn Station - New York".   I remember as if it was yesterday the first trip.  At some point after the train exited Newark, I noticed that all of the lights I had seen by looking through the windows on either side of the train had disappeared from view.  Dad calmly explained to me that in order to get into New York City, the train was going to carry us through a tunnel that ran underneath the Hudson River.  My little mind was blown.  I asked him how I would know when we had made it through the tunnel and were back on dry land.  He told me to look for the reappearance of the lights.  I can still recall sitting with my face pressed against the window staring out into the abyss awaiting the reappearance of the lights.  And doing so for what felt like forever.  I can also still recall how excited I was when - just as Dad had predicted - the lights reemerged on the New York side of the river.  

My favorite thing to do with my father was watch and/or listen to the Rangers.  Our pilgrimages to MSG were usually limited to one or two games a season.  But for those trips, we followed the Rangers on radio and on television.  Back in the day, you could not watch all of your favorite team's games on television.  Not only were not all of the games televised but none of the home games were.  It was not until the Rangers made their miraculous run to the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals (where they were crushed in five games by Les Habitants who won their fourth of four consecutive Cups) that I saw a Rangers game that was being played on Garden ice on TV.  Up until that point, home games were radio affairs - with Jim Gordon always pointing out to us whether the Rangers were moving left-to-right or right-to-left on our radio dial.  When the Rangers played on the road, we watched their games on Channel 9  - and listened to Jim Gordon and Bill Chadwick.  Chadwick's nickname was "The Big Whistle", which was a nod to his former gig as a NHL referee.  I remember that every opinion he offered was offered with the arrogance of one who had never been wrong - or perhaps had never admitted to having been so - at any time about any thing.  Dad hated him.  Go figure. 

Perhaps my single-favorite trip to the Garden as a child was the game Dad and I attended in which long-time Rangers goalie Eddie Giacomin returned to face the Rangers in his first game for the Detroit Red Wings.  When the Rangers started the 1975 season in dreadful fashion, management decided that the time was ripe to cut loose older, expensive players.  Giacomin was unceremoniously waived by then-Rangers boss Emile Francis.  The Detroit Red Wings claimed him on waivers.  A couple of nights later, Giacomin was in the Detroit net opposing the Rangers.  

Giacomin had always been one of my favorite players (he did not occupy as important a spot in my hockey-rooting heart as Rod Gilbert did but he was damn close).  I used to chant "Ed-die!  Ed-die!" while listening on the radio or watching on television.   Dad and I were among the Rangers faithful who were pissed at Francis for having let Giacomin go.  On the train ride to the game that night, I remember asking Dad if I was permitted to root against the Rangers - just for the night - and root for Giacomin instead.  Not only was it acceptable, he said, but it was what he intended to do.  And it is precisely what we did....along with 17,000 or so other people.  The Rangers lost.  The Garden roared.  Almost forty years later, still seems to have been an almost surreal evening.  

The Rangers' abbreviated regular season has ended.  While it looked for most of the season as if they would manage to miss the playoffs (in spite of having a talent-laden roster), that disaster was averted on Thursday night when Ryan Callahan, the team's captain and my favorite member of this current crop of Blueshirts, scored a couple of minutes into the overtime period at Carolina.  Captain Callahan's goal not only won the game but it clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  

Dad died forty-one years after the Rangers captured their last Stanley Cup in his lifetime - in 1940 - and thirteen years prior to them capturing the only one to date in my lifetime - in 1994.  If history is any guide, this hockey season will end for the Rangers somewhere short of Callahan being handed the Stanley Cup by the NHL Commissioner.   And when it does, it will sting a bit for a little while.  Same as it always does.  But that is a discussion for a day other than this one.  

For on this day, Dad is somewhere smiling.  And the chant of "Ed-die!  Ed-die!" forever echoes in the air. 


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