The evening of Awesome Day in NYC was our first ever trip to a live NHL game. The game was Boston Bruins at New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden - the final score didn't turn out the way we had hoped but it was still a brilliant experience.
Our feet were more than a little tired from all the walking we had done earlier on awesome day at the American Natural History Museum and so it came as some great relief when we collected our pre-booked tickets at the collection point and made our way up escalators into the stands. On the way up the escalators, of which there were quite a few because the main arena of Madison Square Garden is actually directly on top of a smaller venue (there was some circus show going on in there at the time) we were handed some free posters celebrating the 85th Anniversary season.
Free posters in hand and liking it so far, we made it to the concourse of the level where we were sitting. As a long time NHL fan I really wanted my first live-in-person NHL game to be special so I'd broken the bank a little more than I normally would look to pay for a sporting event to sit in the 200s. Before we made it into stand we found our way to one of the many beer stalls to get a refreshing beverage and were very happy to find Brooklyn Beer on sale.
(Sorry for the picture quality btw, you're not allowed to use a camera with zoom at the game so the MSG photos are courtesy of my phone's camera)
Now with beer in hand we made our way into the stand and found our seats which had a good view of the ice, close enough at least to see the finer details of the skills on show. Before the game had started I nipped to the toilets and on my way back ventured into one of the club shops and bought a programme and a giant foam hand – I've told you all many times before – we are big kids – but unlike a lot of the kids there, we'd never had a big foam hand. So there we were with beer, a giant foam hand and surrounded by a crowd as eager to have fun as we were made for a great atmosphere.
I wasn't sure before hand if I would warm to the New York Rangers, we'd bought some official merchandise for the event from K-Mart prior to the game but ever since I started watching the NHL which was only achieved through staying up late into the night into the early hours before then going to high school and sixth form totally shattered - my team were the Dallas Stars and I didn't care too much for the Eastern Conference at that time. Back then in the first season Channel5 (a terrestrial TV station in the UK) bought the NHL broadcasting rights I discovered the show “NHL on Five” hosted by Todd Macklin and Jonathan Gould. It was always after midnight and the games would go on into the early hours but I luckily had a TV in my room. The top teams of the season tended to get shown the most and Dallas were one of them. Whenever they were on I was wanting them to win as I have some distant relatives who live out in Texas (this being my only link to the USA) and more importantly at the time, I liked their goal-tender Ed Belfour + even more importantly their shirts were the closest in the league at the time to that of my beloved Leeds United. That season they went on to win the Stanley Cup finals for the very first time and that was me hooked. For my 18th Birthday, I didn't ask for anything but a replica Dallas Stars jersey and my dad, bless his cotton socks, managed to track one down.
To be honest I'd never really warmed to the Eastern Conference teams back then and even worse, with having a name like Rangers and playing in the colours they do, I was never likely to have a soft spot for them. That is because of the relation to Scottish Football and in Scottish football there are two teams I dislike – Rangers and Celtic. For anyone who can't stand the ridiculous feuds and history of Northern Ireland, having to hear about these two Glasgow sides is like having to put up with our local tribal politicians – the fact the local press here would also rather report on those 2 sides above the local league is also a major annoyance. Hopefully one day that will all be history but for now it's still a fact that hearing their names is enough to make me turn over the TV. So with the New York Rangers it was my own psychological baggage from back home that was making me feel apprehensive, as it turns out, I should have left that baggage on the other side of the Atlantic because thankfully it didn't take long for me to realise the error of my thoughts.
The game began and it was clear the only similarities besides the name and shirt colour was the fans passion for their team, in NYC – Rangers are just a hockey franchise, no Scottish football connotations should be attached.
Rather than describing the game, here are all the highlights, basically the Rangers went 1 up then the Bruins brought it back to 1-1, Seguin for the Boston Bruins then scored a brilliant goal before they got lucky with their 3rd, the Rangers then managed to pull it back to 3-2.
In the last few minutes it became a nail biter and I was happy when my favourite thing in ice hockey happened when the Rangers pulled the goalie to get a 6th skater on the ice - unfortunately it didn't pay off and sadly they were unable to level it and take the game to overtime. The Bruins kinda deserved the win but it was very even and it could so easily have gone either way - in fact the Rangers could so easily have won it if they'd have been able to convert their shot advantage into goals. Callahan and Lundqvist impressed me the most for the Rangers, Thomas for the Bruins and he was really the difference that sealed the win on the night.
My general impressions were that the consistency of skill and speed of the game was higher than the UK Elite league, the margin for error a lot smaller, the intensity much higher and the tactics more pronounced. The sad thing really is the size of the arenas, with so much demand for so few seats the prices for NHL games are a little on the expensive side and I think next time we go it'll be into the cheaper seats... all the same atmosphere but with more change left over for the beer :)
Although the Rangers lost, they won us over and that night both Norngirl and I became fans.
I do feel a sell out to have two NHL sides I now follow but I'm convincing myself it's OK by the fact one is Western Conference and the other Eastern... they can both win their respective conferences and then I'll worry about who wins the Stanley Cup final if it ever comes to it :) - I can dream, lol.
With the powers of retrospect brought to me by typing this post so long after the event, I can reveal that since our visit, the New York Rangers managed to sneak into the playoffs after winning their last game and with Carolina Hurricanes losing. Dallas, sadly, were not able to beat Minnesota Wild on the last day of the regular season in order to do the same. The Rangers were not able to overcome a strong Washington Capitals side, beaten 4-1 overall though the playoff series score probably flattered the Capitals given they were more than lucky on a few occasions. It was probably a fair representation for although Lundquist can get the team out of sticky situations quite often it doesn't help much when you're not scoring very often. The main trouble from the games we saw this season seemed to be a lack of fire power, especially when Callahan was out injured for two spells due to broken bones after putting his body on the line blocking shots. Hopefully given some maturity from the younger players, a wise draft pick or two combined with being able to keep together the core of what has been a very hard working team, the Rangers can build on this season to make a bigger impact next season. Same really for the Stars. A few decent players flourishing or brought in could really be the spark that helps them at least settle higher into those play-off spots and have a better chance of making it further in the finals.
I know it's all corporate and I do find it sad that the sides are franchises and not always guaranteed to be in the cities they claim to represent but I was very impressed by it all and my first NHL game was all I had hoped it would be having seen so many games on TV. I really hope I am lucky enough to see another game in person the future, in the mean time I'll be making the most of the free ESPN stuff we get with our TV package and looking forward to seeing plenty more of the Rangers from afar.
Walking out of Madison Square Garden we were still in good spirits though a little disappointed in the result but we knew they'd given it a good try and that's all you can ask for really. We headed on to the nearby Macy's to pick up a few presents for family back home before heading back to the hotel to sample the rooftop bar and have a night cap.
With the twinkling lights of the city around us and the memories of a really brilliant day, we knew Awesome day had lived up to it's billing and it's something we'd both love to try again... and who knows, maybe next time the Rangers will cap it off with a win?