Their journey began more than 50 years ago when a young father took his very small son by the hand and led him to New York City and to a dark, smoky place with a lot of steps and a bright white sheet of ice at the center. Little did the young boy know that what he was about to see at the “Old” Madison Square Garden that night would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Down on the ice, players dressed in brightly colored uniforms skated effortlessly as heavily padded goaltenders kicked and swatted at pucks fired with crooked sticks. The rest of the people in the arena seemed to react in unison to the action on the ice as their gasps, groans and cheers came as one. The little boy instantly began to love this game and this place, for its speed and color and the excitement it brought into his young life.
The boy began reading everything he could get his hands on about this foreign sport. He learned about its history and heroes, players like the Richards and Jean Beliveau, Eddie Shore and Howie Morenz, Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower. He also read about Lord Stanley of Preston and his fabled Cup and men like Frank Boucher, Davey Kerr, the Cook brothers and Lester Patrick who had won it for the Rangers not all that long ago in the 30’s and 40’s.
He memorized the words to “Oh Canada” and “The Rangers Victory Song” and asked his mother for a Ranger jersey for Christmas. The request prompted the usual “we’ll see” response but a few weeks later the boy unwrapped one of the greatest presents he had ever received. The youngster sat glued to the television on Saturday nights while Win Elliot and Bob Wolff brought “Gump” Worsley, Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell into his living room. He played table hockey with his dad in the kitchen, always having to be the Bruins to his father’s Rangers. He soon became the only kid on his block who owned a hockey stick as he shot a ball against the factory wall across the street. The neighbors must have thought the kid was nuts!
At the time, the Rangers and Bruins battled for fifth place instead of first and the Stanley Cup was something that Toronto, Montreal and Detroit played for. But it wasn’t about winning and losing back then, just about watching the game and marveling at the artistry of the players. But as the boy grew into a teenager the Rangers talked “Boom Boom” Geoffrion out of retirement and made the playoffs for the first time since he began watching them. The father stood on a pre-dawn line for playoff tickets. But that spring, the Rangers brought tears to the young man’s eyes for the first time as they lost four straight to the mighty Canadiens. The father knew those tears would not be the last.
The years went by. The boy used his high school G.O. card to buy side balcony seats at the old Garden for $1.25 and later shared Blue Seat season tickets with his father when the new Garden opened. They also shared the joys and disappointments of being a Ranger fan while the likes of Giacomin, Park, Ratelle, Gilbert, Tkaczuk, Irvine and “Stemmer” performed before them. But as each era came and went the results were the same. With each passing year, the tears became fewer as the expectations dimmed. Both wanted to believe, but neither actually thought they’d ever see a Rangers Stanley Cup victory together.
But then something wonderful happened. At about 11 o’clock on the evening of June 14th, 1994 the son telephoned his father and they watched the spectacle together, speechless. The tears once again flowed from their eyes, for the journey had finally led to the promised land. Although in different cities, they were sharing their first Stanley Cup together. Words failed them. A huge weight had been removed from their shoulders. Their lives had changed forever. They would never again have to hear chants of “1940” or smack an embarrassed grin on their face when asked the eternal question, “What’s the matter with the Rangers?”
As you’ve probably guessed by now, the young boy in this story was me. Pop is gone now but I’m forever grateful to him for introducing me to the game of hockey and the New York Rangers, and taking me on the longest, most frustrating but most rewarding journey of my life.