Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The New York Rangers from A to Z

Puck Daddy
Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The New York Rangers from A to Z
Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The New York Rangers from A to Z

(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)

By: Beth Boyle Machlan, contributor for The Other Half

A. Amirante’s Anthems AND Amazons

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Had I written this in March, John Amirante would be featured here as the Rangers’ regular singer of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But on April 18th, 2015, just before the second game of the postseason against the Pens, the Garden announced with little fanfare that Amirante was singing his last anthem, leaving the fans deranged with rage. 

Keep in mind that Rangers fans are usually deranged with rage about something or other, but putting a 35-year veteran out to pasture at the start of the playoffs represented the exact sort of middle finger to ritual and tradition that the hockey gods were unlikely to overlook. They brought Amirante back by popular demand for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, but the damage was done; the Bolts won that night, according to Dan Rosen, “by playing like the Rangers,” and went on to win the series.

Published in 1980, Amazons claimed to be “An Intimate Memoir By the First Woman to Play in the NHL," Cleo Birdwell. It featured an author photo of a sultry blonde dressed as a Ranger (although her stick barely reaches her shoulder and her skates are the size of her torso), and the picture is an appropriate preface to a story that is light on hockey and heavy on sex.

But in case you hadn’t guessed, Birdwell was never really a Blueshirt. She was created by Don DeLillo, author of American Lit survey stalwarts White Noise and Underworld, and apparently not much of a hockey fan. Sadly, DeLillo disowned Amazons back in 1985, and the book is now out of print.

B. Blue Seats

For 47 years, the Blue Seats were the Garden’s answer to Yankee Stadium’s Bleacher Creatures, a nosebleed-level pit filled with hard-drinking diehards, multi-generational season ticket holders, and contempt for the suits in the red seats below. Renovations to the Garden a few years back changed the look of the blue seats, but not their spirit, as anyone who has sat there recently can attest. If you bring the little ones, consider earplugs, or they may learn a whole lot of language to match their seats.

C. Curse of 1940

1940 was a good year for the Rangers; they beat the Leafs to win the Cup for the second time in a row, and they paid off their lease on Madison Square Garden.

It seemed fitting to combine these celebrations, so legend has it that they burnt the MSG lease in the bowl of the Cup. Apparently this ceremony didn’t sit well with the hockey gods, who regarded it as a desecration, and thus kept the Rangers from raising the Cup again until '93-'94.

Another theory behind the Curse is that Red Dutton, coach and GM of the New York Americans, got pissed when the NHL reneged on a promise to revive his Amerks after World War II, handing New York City over to the Rangers; rumor has it Dutton swore the Rangers wouldn’t lift another Cup for as long as he lived. Dutton died in 1987, so it must have taken the curse a few years to wear off.

D. Duguay, Ron AND Don and Dave Maloney

Unlike hockey teams, bands usually play only one line at a time. However, had Simon LeBon fallen off the stage when Duran Duran played the Garden back in 1984, Ron Duguay could have stepped right in.

From 1977 to 1983, he played center by day and frequented Studio 54 at night; today, Duguay appears, often blindingly, as an analyst on the MSG Network. His sartorial splendor dates back to the Reagan Administration, and his mullet made it until 2015; the color of his outfits compensates for the predictability of his commentary.

From 1974 to 1988, there was a Maloney brother on the Blueshirts bench; from 1978-1984, there was more than one.

Dave remains the youngest captain in Rangers history. In 1978-79, he led his team to the SCF; he also led the team in penalty minutes in three separate seasons. His little brother Don holds a ton of great Rangers records: fastest three goals by one player and fastest two goals in one game (a record tied this past season by Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash, against the Sharks). In 1984, the brothers shared the team’s “Crumb Bum” award for community service.

Today, after many years in the Rangers from office, Don Maloney is GM of the Arizona Coyotes, while Dave provides radio color commentary alongside Kenny Albert -- and I know more than one fan who turns the volume off on the TV and listens to Dave instead.

Here’s just one of many game-winning goals for Donny Maloney:

E. Emile Francis

Hall-of-Famer Emile Francis did fine on the ice, but his real contribution to the Blueshirts came from behind the bench.

Francis brought in “Boom-Boom” Gioffrion and Eddie Giacomin, and coached the famous Goal-A-Game line of Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, and Rod Gilbert. He led the Rangers to the playoffs every year from 1962-1972, when they lost the Cup to the Bruins, and then he lost his job; he went on to help build the St. Louis Blues and the Hartford Whalers. The Emile Francis Trophy is presented yearly to the AHL team with the best record.

F. Fotiu, Nick

Fotiu was the first Ranger ever to have been born and raised in New York City – Staten Island, to be precise. He honed his enforcer skills as a Golden Gloves boxer, and warmed fans’ hearts by tossing pucks far up into the blue seats. They continued to cheer for him after he was traded away to the Whalers in the 1979 expansion, and rejoiced when the team brought him back in 1981 so that he could end his career as a Ranger.

Here he is against the Flyers’ Behn Wilson. “Good shot by Fotiu! Another good shot by Fotiu!”

Fotiu stuck up for his team even when he wasn’t playing. Here, he goes after a guy – possibly an off-duty LA King -- who reached over the glass to restrain the Rangers’ Ed Hospodar.

G. Giacomin, Eddie

There’s a reason why the even the Holiest of Goaltenders, Mike Richter, refers to Eddie Giacomin as “the iconic Rangers goalie.”

Fans loved the big-hearted, fearless Giacomin so much that, in 1975, when the Rangers faced him in net for Detroit two days after putting him out on waivers, they booed their own Blueshirts for scoring and chanted “EDDIE” instead. Final score: Detroit 6 – Rangers 4. You’ll want tissues for this one, folks.

H. Henrik Lundqvist

Yes, his last name begins with L. But we call him Hank or the King, we cheer him as “HEN-RIK!” and we know that he’s the bedrock, the backbone, the brick wall behind the Rangers’ recent success.

Lundqvist was part of the team’s turnaround way back in 2005, when Sports Illustrated picked them to finish dead last in the league. Instead, baby Hank, playing behind Jaromir Jagr and Petr Prucha, netted the Blueshirts their best record since winning the Cup in ’94. Today, his career regular season save percentage is .922, with a GAA of 2.23. (To put that in perspective, Carey Price comes in at .919, 2.44.)

Lundqvist is the face of the franchise – and what a face, amirite?

Seriously, though, another loss in the home stretch might just break Henrik’s heart, and we can’t have that. Rangers, win this guy a damn Cup already.

Just another day at the office:

Spin-o-Rama: Not just for offense anymore!

On a slightly less noble note, we really should have done a Kickstarter to pay the $5K this cost him, but what with his contract, Hank can probably cover it.

I.  ...  

I is certainly not for the Islanders, that’s for sure.

Since 1971, the team formerly known as the Fishsticks, now the Brooklyn/Barclay Buffoons (I may have made this up), has been engaging the Rangers in a Battle of New York that has been bitter, vituperative, and sometimes just plain weird, both on and off the ice.

But it’s not just the players, who, let’s face it, come and go, get traded, retire. The real rivalry is between the fans, who have now been hating each other for over two generations. There’s nothing quite like the dark, angry energy of a Rangers-Islanders game; imagining an entire arena eating bath salts chased with gin might give you some idea. Nothing makes a Rangers fan madder than a smug Islanders fan, because what do they have to be smug about? Yes, the Isles won four straight Cups – 30 YEARS AGO! No, as a matter of fact, they have NOT won a playoff series since 1993! And their goal song is incomprehensible.

So would you like to watch Dan Cloutier beat the living daylights out of Tommy Salo and then taunt the Isles bench? OF COURSE YOU WOULD!

You almost have to feel a little bad for them … except you don’t. Why? Because this past year, after beating the Rangers three times during the regular season, Islanders fans decided to create a new cheer: “You Can’t Beat Us.” So we beat them. Nice cheer, guys.

Of course, Rangers fans haven’t always comported themselves with the utmost dignity and grace either. What fun would that be? SANTA-FIGHT!

More recently, here’s Grandpa Dan Boyle making a memorable contribution to Rangers/Islanders Museum of Hate and Rage with an uppercut to Cal Clutterbuck (which sounds like something Franklin W. Dixon would have said about the Hardy Boys in 1952):

J. Jaromir Jagr

Obviously, the most notable fact about Jagr is that he could play the “J” for eight different NHL teams.

Drafted 5th overall in 1990, Jagr wore a Blueshirt from 2004-2008, took over as captain after Messier, and in 2006 became the only right wing to score 100 points in a season, among other records and awards in his time as a Ranger, including the Lester B. Pearson. Now entering his 25th season in the NHL, currently a Florida Panther, Jagr is beloved for his smile, his late, great mullet, and his merry band of Traveling Jagrs.

K. Kelly Kisio

Hall-of-Famer Kisio was a Blueshirt from 1986-1991, as well as the 21st man to wear the Rangers C (the 20th was Greschner, and 22nd was THE Captain, Mark Messier).

When asked by Jim Cerny what he remembers most about the Rangers, Kisio responded: “First thing for me is the fans. If you played hard and showed passion for the game the fans appreciated the effort you put in and would cheer for you and hope for you. But I tell you what, if you didn't play hard and didn't show the type of commitment that they showed in their everyday life, they could get you out of there in a hurry.”

Kisio clearly showed the right kind of commitment, as evident in this clip, which was chosen in part for the purity of its description: “Kisio sets up a Pierre Larouche goal and then whips some ass.” It’s true! Enjoy!

L. Leetch, Brian

Oh, baby. D-Man Leetch’s No. 2 jersey sails over the Rangers’ home ice. In that epic Cup year, he became the first American to take home the Conn Smythe, and over the course of his career also snagged two Norris Trophies and the Calder Cup.

In 2004, after failing to make the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the Rangers held their historic fire sale, and Leetch was traded to the Leafs for two prospects and two picks. Today, he occasionally plays the Trebek-like straight man to Duguay’s technicolor commentary on MSG Network.

Here’s the goal that started Game 7:

M. Mark Messier, Mike Richter, AND “MATTEAU! MATTEAU! MATTEAU!”

Yes, Stephane Matteau scored the game-winning goal in double-overtime of Game 7 against Brodeur and the Devils to clinch the Eastern Conference Final and move on to that glorious Cup win. There’s no such thing as a bad goal in that situation, but the perfect placement of that puck has long since been overshadowed by the pure joy of Howie Rose’s exultant cries, a moment that makes any real Rangers fan wonder how the hell this room got so dusty, who’s chopping onions, etc. Oh, who cares. Watch it and weep, and keep the Kleenex handy.

We may have to play with the order of Mike Richter’s initials to put him here, but there’s no doubt that he belongs, not only for his netminding, but for his continued career as an all-around amazing human being. After saving pucks, he graduated from Yale (yes, really) and now saves the planet (again, yes, really) as a founder of Healthy Planet Partners and by working with Riverkeeper, the Nature Conservancy, and the Sierra Club.

But enough of that hippy crap; let’s watch him play. In Game 4 of the final, the Rangers were trailing the Vancouver Canucks when a wild pass left Pavel Bure breaking from the blue line Kreider-style, only to be tripped up by Brian Leetch. Bure was awarded a penalty shot … and then Mike Richter took that award, threw it on the ground, and stamped it into splinters with this right leg stretch save.

And then there’s Mark Messier, the Messiah, the Moose. What to say about a guy with a 25 year career in which he was the only NHL captain to win the Cup with two different teams, came in second all-time in regular season points, playoff points, and games played, and whose name graces the league’s Leadership Award? (Extra points for not giving it to Toews until he won his third cup, because HAHA, Tazer, how does it feel to want?)

How about that he stood behind his guarantee of a win in Game 6 against the Devils with a hat trick, including this empty-netter?

Or that he scored the Game 7 game-winner?

And that he smiled with that big Messier Muppet-mouth for one of – if not THE most – iconic images in Rangers history?

Here’s the whole thing:

N. Nash, Rick

Poor Rick Nash. Or is it poor Rangers? Depends on who you ask, but you probably shouldn’t ask during the playoffs … unless of course that’s EXACTLY when you should ask.

The Paradox that is Rick Nash – the Nashadox, if you will – can be summed up in the fact that the guy came in third in the league in scoring this year on the strength of the first part of the regular season, and then proceeded to go practically dry for the final third, including the playoffs. (The one night he got two goals, in Game 6 against Tampa, the Rangers didn’t even need them.) But the game is more than goals, right? Nash continues to rack up points via assists (14 in 19 playoff games). He’s a possession-dominant forward who plays great D, and coach Alain Vigneault is positive his playoff game will fall into place; he didn’t get much postseason experience in Columbus. Which makes sense, right? I mean, look at this, especially the absolutely filthy dangle at 1:20:

But tell that to the fans. This summer, the Nashadox crossed sport and gender lines:

I’ll let the blue-seaters (see: B) in front of me during the second round series sum it up for you …

FAN 1: Would you trade Nash for Ovi?

FAN 2: Trade him? I would KILL Nash for Ovi!

O. “Ooh! La la! Sasson!”

Apparently when it came to coolness, being a Ranger in the 80s was the sports equivalent of driving a talking car -- or that’s what THEY thought, anyway. Who would have guessed that a commercial utterly dedicated to hockey butt could look this bad? It was the Reagan era, but I guess the Rangers hadn’t yet hired anyone to 'Just Say No' to Phil Esposito, Anders Hedberg, Ron Duguay, Don Maloney, and Ron Greschner  … so we have this.

And this. Just … wow.

Since we’re utterly humiliated already, why not add this. At least it was for a good cause:

P. "Potvin Sucks!"

Ever since Denis Potvin broke Ulf Nilsson’s ankle in what Nilson himself insists was a clean hit, way back in 1979, Rangers fans, particularly the Blue Seaters, have transformed the last three notes of the sports standard “Let’s Go Band” into their cue for “Potvin sucks!” When the MSG organist stopped playing the song to try to kill the cheer, fans simply whistled the notes instead.  While some are more than ready to see the tradition die, others still listen for the whistle, and respond.

NO:

YES:

OH COME ON:

Here’s the “cheer,” such as it is:

Q. Quickie

No, not THAT kind of quickie. Come on, people.

Quickie is what current head coach Alain Vigneault calls Swedish winger Jesper Fast, who really hasn’t earned the right to be on this list. However, I’m using his nickname to a) kill off a tough letter and b) stand in for SPEED, which is something the Rangers have lots of – although not as much as we did before trading Carl Hagelin to the Ducks (sob).

Pregame interviews with other teams frequently focus on the need to shut down the Rangers’ speed, probably because of goals like this.

… and this:

Maybe now that Hags and Kreider are no longer on the same team, we’ll see a race for the puck that determines who’s the fastest, once and for all.

R. Rye, Playland, and the Ramada Inn

NY Times
NY Times

Tony Gervino of the New York Times asks: “How much trouble could hockey players get into in a sleepy hamlet known mostly for IBM’s world headquarters? The answer? Plenty.”

For years before MSG built the state-of-the-art facility in Tarrytown, the Rangers practiced at Playland. (And for one of those years, they lived -- and by “lived” I mean “ran amok” -- at a Ramada Inn.) That 80s playoff drought may have been due to sharing a sheet with a bunch of local kids’ teams, including mine; our rec room (shut up, I’m old) was full of sticks and pucks handed to us by players like John Vanbiesbrouck, Tomas Sandstrom, and Pierre LaRouche. Forgive me for including a Formative Fan Moment: In 1987, they were clomping off the ice and my team was clomping on, when one of them mumbled, “Girl hockey players. Cool.” I’d give a toe to know who it was, but back then I was way too shy to look them in the eyes. So Random ’87-'88 Ranger … if by some miracle you’re reading this, thanks.

S. “Shoot the puck, Barry!”

“Shoot the puck, Barry!” came from outspoken TV commentator and Hall of Fame referee Bill “the Big Whistle” Chadwick, who grew frustrated by defenseman Barry Beck’s insistence on accumulating assists – or just futzing around – instead of putting the puck on net. Fans brought the phrase from TV to the Garden, where it became a chant, especially during the power play. (Oh, the power play. It’s under “Y.” Don’t ask.) This tribute to Chadwick came from the David Hinkley of the Daily News: “He was everything a radio school would tell you you don't want in a broadcaster. He mangled names. He tortured grammar. He rooted as hard for the Rangers as any nut in the blue seats. He was great.”

T. Tex Rickard

He turned the New York Americans, the Amerks for short, into his own Tex’s Rangers back in 1925. Conn Smythe (sound familiar?) was hired to coach the new team, but Rickard ended up paying him to leave. The Rangers had a great first season, became 20’s men about town, and earned their nickname the Broadway Blueshirts.

U. Ulf(s), Nilsson and Samuelsson

Ulf Nilsson was in the first wave of Swedish stars to make a splash in the NHL. Today, he’s probably best-known for his part in the origin story of that controversial “tribute” to Denis Potvin at letter P. (Apparently Nilsson’s blade got caught in the crappy MSG ice, leaving his leg to take the brunt of Denis Potvin’s hit, decimating his ankle.)  He played only 160 games in 3 full seasons, but somehow racked up 163 points – and one of the most notorious cheers in hockey history. Here’s the hit:

Ulf Samuelsson is still on the Rangers bench, today as an assistant coach. He won the Cup twice, albeit with the Penguins (shudder), and had a great Swedish nickname, “Tuffe Uffe,” which sounds, well, not very tough (sorry Sweden). This Ulf also gives great YouTube, for all the wrong reasons. He was on the business end of this historic Tie Domi sucker punch:

He’s also the only NHL player who can claim the dubious honor of having knocked out Wayne Gretzky’s wife.

Fortunately, Gretzky was on his team at the time, so they handled it like gentlemen. Then there was that unfortunate “spying” incident with the Habs in 2014. Now help us win a Cup, Ulf, and get known for something else.

V. Vanbiesbrouck, John

Don’t let the name that sounds like a Hudson River bridge fool you; Beezer was born in the U S of A, and his 20-year career is the longest for an American-trained goalie in NHL history. He joined the Rangers in 1984 and won the Vezina in 1986. He and eventual Cup-winner Mike Richter actually shared the net for a few seasons, until expansion forced the Rangers to make a choice, and Vanbiesbrouck went to the Canucks.

Here is a gorgeous glove save (ignore the uniform):

Here is a terrible glove accident (ignore the uniform here, too, but for a different reason):

W. Worsley, Lorne “Gump”

Author Randi Druzin observed that Worsley “looked more like a cartoon character than an elite athlete,” but fortunately he played like the latter. He joined the Rangers farm team, the Verdun Cyclones, as a walk-on back in 1946, and had to quit his job as an apprentice upholsterer (!) when the team invited him to New York.

When Chuck Rayner pulled a leg muscle in 1952, Gump the rookie won the Calder Trophy in spite of having the worst GAA of any starting goalie in the league. After being briefly traded away for requesting a $500 raise, Gump was between the pipes for the Blueshirts from 1954-1963, behind a defense so bad he often faced 50 shots per game. According to Druzin, when a reporter asked Gump which team gave him the most trouble, he replied, “The New York Rangers.”

He was happy to be traded to the Habs for Jacques Plante in 1963. When he returned to the Garden in 1966-67, fans showed their appreciation by hitting him in the head with an egg so hard that he had to leave the game. (Related: Worsley wore a mask for only the last 6 of his 931-game NHL career.)

X. EriXon, Jan

Known as the Shadow for his finesse at shutting down forwards like Gretzsky and Lemieux, Erixon played left wing for the Blueshirts from 1983-93, and was a finalist for the Selke in 1988. By all accounts, Erixon was not only a valuable player but also a perfect gentleman. While the rest of the 80s Rangers were modeling jeans and mummifying each other in duct tape (see “O” and “R”), Erixon was a grownup, as befits a two-time winner of Steve McDonnell extra effort award.  Here he is chatting with Al Trautwig in 2010.

Y. Yandle, Keith

To which you say, “Yandle? Really? He’s been a Ranger for, like, ten minutes!” True, but we’re going to use him as a stand-in – a synecdoche, if you will – for the Rangers power play which, while never digging its way back to the 0-36 depths of last season, continues to be unreliable at best and epically atrocious at worst. (And don’t even get me started on 5-on-3s.)

Both Yandle and Dan Boyle were brought in as anchors for a boat that seems determined not only to drift away, but also to sink, taking women, children, and perhaps even the Cup with it. To which you will respond: “But Beth! Didya notice that we got to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year, and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year, in addition to picking up a little piece of hardware known as the PRESIDENT’S TROPHY?” To which I respond, “All true. So why do I still have to cover my eyes during our power play?

Maybe because of this?

Or this?

Hey, remember when I said I wasn’t going to talk about 5-on-3s? I lied.

So yes, I want to hear Sam Rosen say those words as much as the next girl. Maybe 2015-2016 will be the season I can actually look.

Z. Zuccarello, Mats

Since donning a Blueshirt in 2010, Mats Zuccarello has become the heart of the Rangers for fans and teammates alike. We giggled with him as he and his bros visited the zoo, we held our breaths until Sather re-signed him this past March, we watched in horror as he skated slowly off the ice after taking teammate Ryan McDonagh's slapshot in the head, and we wept with him when his best bro (and the team’s best hair) Carl Hagelin got traded to the Ducks in June.

In spite of what sometimes seems like a pathological refusal to shoot, the Hobbit’s injury left a Chara-sized hole in the offense that hurt us badly in the 2015 playoffs. Our fingers and toes are crossed that Zucc will be back to his old tricks on and off-ice this season.

Meet the author: Beth Boyle Machlan teaches writing at NYU and rants about hockey over at The Other Half. She’s been a Rangers fan since sharing practice ice with them at Rye Playland in the late 80s. Follow her on Twitter at @bethmachlan.

Previous A to Z Guides: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago | Colorado | Columbus | Dallas | Detroit | Edmonton | Florida | Los Angeles | Minnesota | Montreal | Nashville | New Jersey | NY Islanders

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