Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Now I Can Die in Peace

Yesterday I had this IM conversation with Chuck B:

Ace: You know what today is?
CB: Yeah, the Rangers won the Cup 11 years ago today.

True Ranger fans will never forget that day. We'll never forget waking up 11 years ago today with thoughts of a Stanley Cup banner being raised to the MSG rafters.

Eleven years ago yesterday, the New York Rangers won Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in 54 years. And 11 years ago today, I think I woke up the happiest I'd ever been at that point in my life. No more 1940, no more missed opportunities, just an incredibly joyous celebration that would stay with me for a lifetime.

That 1993-94 squad was my first real championship team. I actually attended Game 7 of the 1986 Mets/Sawx World Series and witnessed the celebration, and I kinda rooted for the New York Football Giants as I followed their two Super Bowl victories. But I worshipped those Rangers. I used to sit in science class and make new lines for Mike Keenan's boys, I used to waste time in math class by writing out their complete roster, first by number, then by alphabetical order.

I would imagine myself hanging out with Adam Graves and Brian Leetch. I would gaze out the window and envision myself getting wrist shot and moustache tips from Mike Gartner (before we traded him at the deadline for Glenn Anderson), despite the fact I couldn't grow any facial hair. When I practiced in the driveway I would throw on either my Messier or Sergei Zubov jersey -- I had both -- and pretend to beat Ron Hextall with a glove-side wrister. This was my team, my time.

For the first time in my life we had partial season tickets for the Rangers. My dad called it a hunch. So I went to probably 10 of the 40 home games at MSG, no small task for a Long Islander. In the playoffs, I went to three of the four games against the hated Isles, one in the Garden and both at the Nausea Mausoleum. I've never been more proud of any team after that series -- we swept those bitches in four games, outscoring our rivals 22-3. I grew up with all Isles fans, and if there had ever been a sweeter way to rub it in on your friends, I'm not sure I've found it since. This was total annihilation of a vanquished foe. Don't think I let my friends ever hear the end of it.

I went to a few games against the Capitals in the next round and felt confident we'd beat the Devils. Only the Devils jumped out early and took a 3-2 series lead back to their home ice. This was our team of destiny, though, we couldn't lose. We just couldn't lose. Enter Captain Messier, who proclaimed "I guarantee we'll win tonight" before Rasheed and the Guarantee became as commonplace as the athlete arrest record. This was Joe Willie Namath all over again. After falling behind 2-0, our team of destiny looked sloppy and lost. But Messier was determined, and he put the team on his back and dragged them out of the hole. As he slid the puck towards the empty net with only a few seconds left, Mess headed to the lockerroom with a hat trick and an assist, and we were headed back to the Garden.

Who knew it would take Stephane Matteau and the Rangers seven games to beat those fockers? But I was there, I was in the Garden for the magic. We were all basically celebrating a 1-0 victory when the Devils' Valeri Zelepukin beat Richter with 7.7 seconds left in the game (many fans don't remember this, but there was a bullshit whistle that put the face-off in the Rangers zone when the game should have been over). Wait, weren't we going to the Stanley Cup finals? Now we're going to overtime? Ugh, I'm gonna be sick. Not sure I've ever felt worse in my young life.

The first overtime was brutal. We kept peppering Brodeur with shots and nothing would go in. At that point, I wondered whether the team would become completely demoralized, thinking there was no shot they'd slip one past Marty. Then we got lucky. We got really lucky. Matteau curled behind the net and threw a pass in front, only it went in. I saw it go in. I jumped out of my seat and almost hit the ceiling. We were winners. Cue Howie Rose (Soon after I memorized the call and I can still recite it in its entirety off the top of my head, and I don't think I'll ever forget a word of it).

After the big win at MSG, I worried that we had shot our proverbial load. Much like the Yankees after the 2003 ALCS, sometimes a brutal series takes more out of a team that one can predict. But we came out hot against Vancouver and took a 3-1 series lead back to MSG. Dad Cowboy called Red Cowboy and I and asked us if we wanted to see the clincher. Red and I sat right next to the guy who flicks the red light on after a goal, that's how close we were to the action. We were going to see the Rangers win the Cup, and we were going to be inches away from the celebration.

Only the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Shitballs. But we rallied back, and tied it at 3 on our end of the ice, right in front of us. Only, if I remember correctly, Dave Babych scored right away for Vancouver and they never lost the lead. Bummer. Bummer about Game 6, too. Well, this is what it's all about, Game 7 in the World's Most Famous Arena (do you think people at the Roman Coliseum get pissed at MSG for that claim?).

I watched the first period at home. We took an early 2-0 lead and I was ecstatic. Red Cowboy and his buddy Jay called me from a bar in the next town, asking if I want to come hang out. I was 15, mouth full of braces -- I was 14-turning-15 but probably looked 12 -- and they came home to pick me up and bring me to the bar. Strangely, nobody carded me at the door and nobody said a bad word to me the whole night. Awesome.

Up 3-2 with just about no time remaining, all that was left to do was prepare to celebrate. I had been waiting many years for this, and older Ranger fans had been waiting 54 years. This was the Red Sawx curse before the Red Sawx curse ended (and make no mistake, hockey was INSANELY popular back in '94, easily the sport's peak and baseball's valley). There really was a hex on the Rangers -- they hadn't won the title since burning the mortgage to MSG in the Cup's bowl after their 1940 win. And we were about to break it. We were about to win that Cup.

Another bullshit icing call put the puck in our zone. But there wasn't any time for 'Couver to was over. The ref dropped the puck and the celebration began. Fifty-four years of failure erased. No more 1940. The team I had spent so much time agonizing over, questioning the mid-season trades (Wait, we traded Tony Amonte for Brian Noonan and Matteau?! Who the fuck is Matteau?!), watching or attending all 80 games, this team had won. I now know success.

And much like baseball when my Yanks started to get good again, hockey went on strike. All the momentum was dead. Our unbelievable coach, Iron Mike Keenan, fought a drawn-out battle with management and left the team before they ever skated for real again. By the time we raised the banner (at Game 1 of a shortened 48-game season), the spirit of the team was different, the magic gone. Eventually we traded Zubov, my favorite player, and just about everyone else to try and re-capture the glory, but we dug ourselves a hole.

Now the Rangers suck, but also, there's no hockey. Still, though, I will always look back at that team with fondness, my first real championship. I'll always remember waking up 11 years ago today and being as happy as one could be. No matter how bad things get with the team and the league, nothing will take that away. Eddie Olczyk's proclamation of "Heave ho, two in a row" didn't quite pan out, but I'll never forget that one run for the Cup.

"Captain Mark Messier, come get the Stanley Cup" --Gary Bettman, 6/14/94. I love it. I'll always cherish that moment. I really love it.

Now let's get the Jets a championship and I can really die in peace.


At 1:09 PM, Blogger ahren said...

what's hockey?

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

C'mon Ahren, you know's that sport where all the black people somehow wind up in Edmonton.

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

...or Calgary. Either way, banishment to Western Canada.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger John Howard said...

Hmmm, for some reason I thought you were older. Anyway, maybe someday, someone else will get to experience the joy of watching their team win the Stanley cup, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Matty Mac said...

I ask him who own the Chiefs.

Well, what did he say?

All he say is "ooowwwnnnnss. OOOWWWNNNNSSS"

You know, I can't say that I miss the NHL all that much. With all the expansions and such, the only redeeming quality these past few years has been the playoffs. Those I do miss.

Growing up in New England, even though I didn't play hockey, it is still very much in my blood. Mike Eruzione, the hero from the Miracle on Ice game, grew up and lives 5 streets over from where I grew up. I was and still am a HUGE college hockey fan. I followed my school's team around to every game, both home and away, for my first two years of college. Even though they were a lowly D-2 team, they were still fun to watch. And I have Boston Univ and Boston College right down the street. So I can certainly get my fix when I need it.

NHL Hockey in t he 70's, 80's and early 90's, though, was still pretty damn good. I loved going to Bruins game. And I still feel that hockey video games are among the most fun to play.

That's my take.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

No, JR, I'm a young'in. The Ace Cowboy will be 26 a week from tomorrow. Send cash.

Matty, I agree, this current brand of neutral-zone trap hockey and over-expansion absolutely killed the league. I'd love to see them get back down to about 24 teams and consolidate the talent.

But mostly I miss hockey for one main reason: the jargon. Do you know how long it's been since I've used the word "facewash" in a sentence (for you non-hockey fans, that's a stinky open-palmed glove to the face)? How about "one-timer?" Or "Plus-minus."

It's been way too long.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Shit, make that a week from today I'll be 26. I forgot my own birthday. "I gave him the wrong finger."

What movie?

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Matty Mac said...

"Moving" - Great Richard Pryor movie.

"How's it hanging?"

"How's what hanging"

"Your dick"

"Oh, it's hanging to the left"

At 3:07 PM, Blogger misterlister said...

My favorite hockey term is when a player fucks up and the announcer talks about how he is in "Chateau Bow-Wow" with the coach.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Matty Mac said...

I also miss Barry Melrose's slick mullet and Canadian ponch accent.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

That's a good one, misterlister...

Spin-o-rama is another good one...I tried doing that with my cart while grocery shopping -- but Savard does it better. I couldn't pull it off.

At 4:36 PM, Blogger jp said...

I watched every single second of every single game in a bar full of Canuck fans. Mark Messier is God.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

Reading all of these comments made me wish I lived in a city with a professional NHL team.

Paul Noonan
Chicago, IL

At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That day... The closest the nuckers ever came to the cup, well lets just say it hurts....still. And the next year was to be their year..not the rangers. They were on the road to greatness.


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