If you were fortunate enough to be at the old building between 33rd and Seventh above Penn Station on what shall forever be a special night, then you witnessed a big part of your sports livelihood at Madison Square Garden. As I stated in a previous piece, the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers were part of the fabric of the city that captivated fans in this town 25 years ago.
It’s still hard to fathom that it’s been so long since captain Mark Messier hoisted the Cup 54 years in the making for a once cursed franchise on a unforgettable New York summer night on June 14, 1994. The anxiety and anticipation leading up to what was a wonderful ceremony anchored by who else but Sam Rosen and John Davidson, with the latter hearing it from the crowd. Those “JD, JD, JD!” chants from what Adam Graves coined the Garden Faithful were overwhelming. It was a warm welcome home indeed for the popular former Rangers netminder who guided the 1979 team to a Stanley Cup Final before losing to the hated Canadiens. The same passionate man who became a fixture in our households for his terrific analysis on the game and classic, “Oh Baby,” call that was the title of the ’93-94 Stanley Cup Championship video.
For all the hoopla surrounding the return of almost the entire roster except Alexander Karpovtsev, who was well represented by his wife and daughter, receiving a nice ovation, it was truly something to behold. I shed some tears when Messier mentioned how much they missed Karpovtsev during a beautiful speech spoken straight from the heart. It was really emotional. It’s hard to believe the solid depth defenseman, who became one of the first Russian players to have his name on the Stanley Cup, has been gone since that tragic plane crash of KHL team Lokomotiv in 2011. Like everyone on that championship roster, he played a key role. Karpovtsev, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov and Sergei Zubov are part of NHL history as the first Russian players to have their names engraved on the Cup. In case you’re wondering, Sergei Makarov was a year too late with Calgary.
Being up in Section 419 (formerly 411) for the special ceremony that began at 6:30 sharp, what stood out was how well done it was. Anytime you can have Sam and JD back again emceeing, it invokes memories of my childhood. Between the two voices the Rangers family all know and love, and the classic Rangers intro music and old goal song that didn’t need any dusting off for this lifetime fan, it certainly was moving. I stood for most of it as did our family. I can’t remember cheering like that so much in such a short period. Not even the special run in 2014 compares. Had that team won, we could be talking about something very different.
It doesn’t matter what happened in the past between architect Neil Smith and coach Mike Keenan. They were there along with assistant coach Dick Todd and associate coach Colin Campbell. A former coach I don’t particularly like due to how he handled my favorite player, Kovalev. One of many mistakes that were made during that post Stanley Cup era. It happens sometimes. For one night at least, I found it in my heart to forgive him. Besides, this was way bigger than old skeletons in the closet. This was about honoring a special team that as Messier accurately noted, were a family. Not a group or even a team. A family that came together and rallied around each other to deliver that championship, and march down the Canyon of Heroes forever. A goal Keenan talked about and even showed them during camp.
Even better than seeing all the players introduced except also Brian Noonan, who coaches, I loved how Messier made sure to mention how after 25 years, some things do change. How they all miss Potsie. He also didn’t forget Steven McDonald or Viktor Smith, who took his own life at 21 in September. The son of Neil Smith. It was important for the former Rangers GM to mend fences with current Garden CEO James Dolan at a dinner for the players and coaches commemorating the 25-Year Anniversary. I can’t imagine the pain and grief he’s going through.
The perfect touch following Messier’s speech that really hit home with everyone, was a nice video of that championship team with everyone seated. Even Smith and Keenan. The thing about that family is they persevered to get it done. Like every champion in any sport. Hockey is a team game, which is what makes it great. If the players are not all pulling in the same direction, you can’t win. Just listen to his speech to the current roster before the game.
That team did. From character depth guys like Eddie Olczyk, Mike Hartman, Joey Kocur, Doug Lidster, Craig MacTavish, Noonan, Glenn Anderson, Greg Gilbert, Jay Wells, Mike Hudson, Nick Kypreos, Karpovtsev, and Glenn Healy to core pieces Messier, Graves, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Kovalev, Zubov, Nemchinov, Esa Tikkanen, Jeff Beukeboom, Kevin Lowe, they all knew their roles.
Stephane Matteau will never have to buy a drink ever. That’s how revered the Game Seven hero of the Conference Final is. Was there a smarter player than Steve Larmer? I still say he deserves inclusion into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Who can forget his penalty shot goal against the Blackhawks at old Chicago Stadium in his emotional return? What about Zubov’s huge game-winner at the Islanders in the Nassau Coliseum. A goal that broke a long winless drought against their biggest rival who they swept in the first round. From a psychological standpoint, that was big.
I still find it ironic that Graves broke Vic Hadfield’s single season goal record by notching a pair for numbers 50 and 51 against his former team in Edmonton. Graves’ record of 52 would last 22 years before Jaromir Jagr broke it by scoring a franchise record 54 in ’05-06. That was the kind of season it was.
Even though it didn’t last forever prior to the ’18-19 Rangers getting shutout 3-0 against the playoff chasing Hurricanes, the way the tribute to the team was handled was first class. One thing about MSG. They never get these type of ceremonies wrong. The perfect touch following every current Ranger shaking Messier’s hand while part of the conclusion, was not having anyone sing the national anthem. Indeed, it was done by legendary Garden icon John Amirante from the memorable Game Seven against the Canucks on video. The way it should be! We may have lost him last year. But he’s forever etched in our hearts as a unique part of the Rangers family.
Having the opportunity to salute every player, coach, team staff, broadcaster and executive was what made it special. They didn’t need the Stanley Cup there even if I wondered if it would be. It didn’t have to be. The players were enough. A extended family that truly will last a lifetime.