Reading recently that the Rangers were on the verge of signing Swedish ace Jesper Fast, their sixth round pick in the 2010 amateur draft, reminded me of a similar episode twenty years ago. I was writing and editing a newsletter called “SportStat… the Ranger Report” at the time and I was able to “scoop” every other media outlet in the New York area by posting the story below. Fame, fortune and critical acclaim ensued.
NEW YORK, April 1, 1993. After months of negotiations and secret scouting trips, the Rangers today proudly announced the signing of Hungarian Hockey Star Loof Lirpa. Lirpa, a 6′ 3″, 220 pound ambidextrous center, led the Hungarian Amateur Hockey Association (HAHA) in scoring this year with 65 goals and 47 assists in just 60 games. Terms of the contract were not announced. Loof is expected to join the Binghamton Rangers with the possibility of a recall if the Rangers advance in the playoffs.
Lirpa, known to his fans as “Loof the Legend” was born in Budapest on February 29th, 1972 and began his hockey career at the age of 11 with the Budapest Buglers of the Hungarian Outdoor Hockey Organization (HOHO) which played its games on the frozen Blue Danube. Although primarily a center, Loof can play all six positions with equal skill. “I began to move around to other positions when I was in the HOHO,” said Loof. “In the spring when the ice began to melt on the Danube, the league had a rule that if a player fell through the ice, he could not be replaced for the rest of the game. So late in the season the coach was always calling me, ‘Loof – defense, or Loof – goal.’ Sometimes I was the only player on the ice.” When asked if his knack for avoiding the soft spots will help him on the notoriously bad Garden ice, Lirpa responded optimistically. “I was lucky to only hit a soft spot once in the HOHO. I drifted downstream for a few hours but I made it back by bus for the next game. It can’t be any worse than trying to skate on the Danube in the spring.”
Following the press conference, I was lucky enough to sit with Loof, who incidentally is SportStat’s lone Hungarian subscriber, for a few minutes.
SportStat: Loof, what is the biggest difference between hockey in Hungary and in North America?
Loof Lirpa: One of the biggest differences I’ve seen so far is the equipment. Back home, new pads are in short supply, especially shin guards. Many of us line our shins with magazines, even SportStat.
LL: Sure, in fact the new 12-page version absorbs much more of the shock than the eight page editions.
SS: Well I’m glad you put it to good use. At least you don’t line your bird cage with it.
LL: Not until after the game.
SS: What kind of a goalie were you?
LL: I guess I was adequate, but nothing compared to the NHL greats like Hardy Astrom.
SS: Hardy Astrom?
LL: Sure, Hardy is one of the reasons I became a Ranger fan. He had great skills. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
SS: Well, Don Cherry does mention him often.
LL: Don who?
SS: What team gave you the most trouble in Hungary?
LL: The Transylvania Vampires, they were a weird team. They’d only practice or play at night. Very old, but they could fly. They wore deep red uniforms, with a bat on the front, really ugly. I asked one of them once, “Geez, don’t you guys ever look in the mirror?” He just sort of stared at me.
Before he left, Loof offered to give me his autograph. “You know, this will be my first American autograph. How about if I write my name backwards to make it special. I practiced coming over on the plane.”
And with that, “Loof the Legend” leaned over and effortlessly wrote the two words that by now I’m sure you’re expecting.