In thinking about the atmosphere at last Friday’s special celebration of the 25th Year Anniversary of the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers, there’s one thing that still stands out. It’s not what you might think.
Truth be told, we can’t get back that epic feeling of jubilation and look of astonishment on our parents’ faces from that championship team ending 54 years of curses and frustration that hot summer night on June 14, 1994. However, just seeing that roster reunite six days ago at the since renovated MSG brought back the images and anxiety of that season.
Seeing fan favorite John Davidson return to the Garden ice, reunited with Sam Rosen for the special ceremony, meant everything. The crowd chants of “JD, JD, JD!” were deafening. It was a tribute to the classy former Rangers goalie from the ’78-79 team who became a fixture in the broadcast booth with sidekick Rosen for Rangers games.
I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before in this space. Here goes. We went to a Flyers/Rangers game at MSG in the mid 90’s. This was still in the early stages of our fandom attending games after patiently waiting on a list. It’s when the building still sounded alive. The updated version is way different with our section up in the Blue Seats becoming transient due to the escalating costs. If you sit in one of the last two rows like my family, you still get a discount due to the limited view without the scoreboard. The overhang from the Chase Bridge is why. Those tickets below us have risen as have other seats above and lower with unreasonable food expenses. I rarely spend money at games. It’s a waste.
Getting back to that Flyers game. It was a Friday night because I distinctly remember that Davidson had one of those 3 PM afternoon games on Fox the next day. How do I know this detail? I was separated from my father and brother at the game. My seat was in the old press box area beneath the broadcast booth. In fact, it was Pat Verbeek’s seat if I’m not mistaking.
Following the game, I climbed over the railing into the section right next to where Davidson and Rosen broadcasted. Now that I recall correctly, it was the ‘95-96 season. The only full year Verbeek spent on Broadway after being acquired from Hartford at the ’95 trade deadline for a package that included Glen Featherstone, Michael Stewart and a first round draft pick that became future Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Whalers also received a fourth round pick in 1996 that never made it. Of course, they gave away Giguere as did Calgary.
That one full season, Verbeek was terrific playing on the top line with Mark Messier and Adam Graves. He had 41 goals and 41 assists totaling 82 points with 129 penalty minutes and plus-29 rating over 69 games. That included a team best 17 power play goals with six game-winners. One of which I witnessed on my 19th birthday. An overtime win over the Red Wings that was set up by Messier and Brian Leetch on a rare two-man advantage back in the era of five-on-five in OT.
You either got a point for a tie, two points for a win or skated off with nothing but a loss. There was no such thing as parity. Try telling the younger generation that’s become accustomed to the Bettman point regardless of the final outcome. That’s why so many teams play for that free point. They know the second can be earned artificially during the chaotic three-on-three or the bleeping shootout.
The final part of the story from that night on a Rangers win over the hated Flyers was I waited outside the broadcast booth to see if either Rosen or Davidson were still there. Sure enough, out came JD, who was nice enough to sign a few autographs for lucky fans. I still have his signature in the Rangers ’95-96 Team Media Guide downstairs. He was in a rush due to a tight schedule that included catching a late flight to wherever he was going to work for Fox along with Doc Emrick.
I think the reason it stands out was because back then, it was a simpler time for fans to meet even the broadcasters. Now, the booth is closed off to the classic few diehards that are left over in the Blue Seats. In the old days before the renovation, you could walk from the beginning of the 400’s past that booth and to your seats. Ours were in Section 411. I had this tradition of playfully giving a knock at the door of that booth as I passed by. I guess it was a good luck ritual.
I mentioned at the start of this article that last week’s celebration invoked images I haven’t thought about in well, over 20 years. Like the classic MSG intro video for Rangers games shown above. That was always the best. Would you believe it if I told you I found a classic one from Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final. The only one I might add that mattered. It still gives me chills and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
If you’re old enough to recall that moment of anticipation and crazy nervousness and excitement, then you know what I’m talking about. The only thing that comes close is being in the house for Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final in 2014 when they closed out the pesky Canadiens. That was pretty special. I videoed the ending celebration on my old mobile phone. I got John Amirante doing both anthems. It’s up on my YouTube channel. If only that team had won.
I think we all feel the same way about that run. It was special. But they came up short with me screaming at the top of my lungs during sudden death against that annoying team that won. Notice the anger. I still can’t believe they blew all those chances that night. Oh well. At least we got ’94.
Unfortunately, not everyone does. The younger generation of Rangers fans either weren’t alive or doesn’t even remember it. I feel sorry for them. You have no idea when you will ever experience a championship for this still jinxed franchise. Four Stanley Cups in nearly a century is sad. So too is the fact it’ll be one Cup in the last 79 years since 1940. There’ll be no playoffs for a second consecutive year. I have no idea when the rebuilding team will be back. As Henrik Lundqvist ages without the kind of supporting cast needed to seriously challenge like the recent teams in ’14 and ’15, reality begins to set in.
Pretty soon, both Kevin Hayes and cult hero Mats Zuccarello will be gone to help other teams compete for the Cup this Spring. No matter what a too loyal columnist says in regards to the ever popular Zucc, he will be dealt to help further along the rebuilding process. If after everything he still wants to return, he’s more than welcome to this summer. There are risks. We’ll have to wait and see.
I wonder why MSG did away with the ultra cool intro that always got me and other loyal fans pumped up for Rangers hockey. It doesn’t make any sense. Then again, many decisions James Dolan makes regarding the Rangers and a shameless basketball team that shall not be named due to utter frustration, remain mystifying.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I loved the SportsDesk featuring the no nonsense Bob Page or likable Mike Crispino. The quality of MSG programming has gone down hill for quite a while. The production for live games is still second to none. But I do not understand much when it comes to how Dolan runs things.
Nothing against the new MSG theme for games. But it pales in comparison to the cool video montage and popular songs we got back in the day. It needs to come back. If they ever decide to properly honor Brad Park with a jersey retirement, then it’ll finally be time to recognize the many contributions of Rangers legends Bill and Bun Cook along with Frank Boucher, Bryan Hextall, Dave Kerr, Lester Patrick and Lynn Patrick.
There are some traditions that should never die. It’s worth remembering the franchise history from an era when the Rangers won three of their four Cups. That would educate fans and serve as a reminder of how far back this team goes.