On November 16th, the New York Rangers held a question-and-answer event for season subscribers as a way to get to know some of their Broadway Blueshirts a little bit better. Fans had an opportunity to get some insights from defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh and forwards Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and Andre Deveaux. Play-by-play man Sam Rosen moderated the event, which was a mix of him asking the players questions before the floor was opened to fans to do likewise.
Before introducing the players, Rosen himself shared some insight on the 3 men who performed analyst duties with him over his 28 years of Rangers broadcasting for MSG. He called Phil Esposito one of the funniest men you’ll ever meet, great storyteller, great knowledge of the game, but did zero preparation. He stated that John Davidson, his broadcast partner for 20 years, set the standard and called him and John Madden the 2 best analysts in sports TV history. Rosen also mentioned Davidson’s incredible preparation, sharing an anecdote of how he had both a U.S. and an “illegal” Canadian satellite dish, so he could watch all of the games. He also complemented the preparation work of his current partner, Joe Micheletti.
The players were in a jovial mood, joshing each other in answering many of the questions, undoubtedly buoyed by a 7-game win streak and coming off of a 4-2 win over the rival New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum the night before that had been heavily attended by Rangers fans. Dubinsky was part of the team that won 7 straight games in October 2009. “I think this win streak is a lot better than ’09,” Dubinsky said when asked about remembering it. “I like this team a lot more. I think we’re capable of sustaining it a lot better than we were at that point.”
Deveaux, the “newbie” of this group, learned a thing or two about New York City traffic, which delayed him to the event. A recent callup from the AHL, he was asked about life in the NHL. “It’s pretty rough, the game’s a lot quicker,” he noted and said that the guys have made him feel welcome. Deveaux was born in the Bahamas (making him the lone player born there to ever play in the NHL) but his family moved to Welland, Ontario when he was young so his mother could pursue her medical degree. Welland is also the hometown of Dan Girardi, and the 2 of them grew up together.
When McDonagh was introduced to the audience, reference was made to the trade that brought him to the Rangers. Not surprising, mention of the move, which sent free agent bust Scott Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens, elicited cheers. It was when he was traded that McDonagh learned that this was not just about playing a game but a business. McDonagh has undergone baptism by fire in the NHL, not only this season with the injury to Marc Staal but last year as well. A little less than a year ago, McDonagh was called up when Michal Rozsival suffered an injury and had to learn on the job. “I had a lot of guys that helped me along the way … the group of guys that we have we were coming down the home stretch and it was about winning games and so they were helping me along the way and making sure as I was calm as I could be with Torts.”
McDonagh’s comment about trying to remain calm with John Tortorella in charge elicited laughs from the audience, who had a pretty good feel for the coach’s temperament and what he expects from his players. When further asked about Tortorella as coach, McDonagh said it’s “Scary at times … He gets the best out of you. Someway somehow he’s gonna let you know … All he cares about is winning and it doesn’t matter how. It might not be pretty but at the end of the day it’s a ‘W’ and as long as that’s happening he’s gonna help you out.”
Gaborik declared, “He is very demanding … he’s trying to squeeze the best out of you.”
“For me it’s been great,” Dubinsky offered. “You look for a coach to hold guys accountable no matter how much they make or what their position is on the team. I think he’s that guy for us… Everybody sees him get mad all the time but he’s really a fair guy and it’s no secret where you stand with him whether you are doing good things or bad things he’s going to let you know.”
Richards himself is in his second go-around with Tortorella, with whom he won a Stanley Cup as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and said was involved in the offseaon free agency pitch by the Rangers. Rosen asked Richards what it was like winning it all that year:
“It just kind of happens,” Richards replied. “It’s one of those things as the year goes on your team gets closer and closer … it’s just one of those runs you get on … you’re kind of hypnotized with the whole experience …you’re kind of in a fog. It’s amazing. Everyone has bought in and Torts doesn’t have to yell and scream anymore and you’re just rolling along. That’s what makes it so special. You always have that bond with those guys. For some reason those 2 months we clicked at the right time.”
During fan questions, the group was asked who they thought was the toughest guy on the team. Deveaux, Girardi, Brandon Prust and Ryan Callahan were all mentioned. The term tough is interpreted a bit differently for the 4, as Deveaux’s and Prust’s toughness are rooted more in the fighting aspect, while with Girardi and Callahan, it’s more about the shot blocking and the relentless way they sacrifice their bodies for the team. Earlier in the forum, Dubinsky discussed the influence of “Captain Cally”:
“If you were to put in the dictionary what the Rangers should play like you’d see a picture of Ryan … He’s going to go out every day and lead by example with his work ethic … You look at our team last year and the way we were on our way to the playoffs and feeling pretty good about ourselves and he went down and we just lost a little of our jazz … he’s deserving of the captaincy and we really believe in his leadership.”
Of course the evening wasn’t strictly all business. One of the lighter moments happened when a fan asked what career paths they may be on were they not NHLers. Richards said ideally a top 5 golfer, but maybe a lobster fisherman like his father. Deveaux thought he’d probably be a lawyer, like his father, revealing they were big “Law & Order” fans in his his house growing up. Del Zotto took his non-hockey career aspirations from “Dexter” (I’m presuming the foresics, not the serial killing). McDonagh, 3 years into earning a finance degree from the University of Wisconsin, thought maybe he would be working on Wall Street. Gaborik deadpanned, “Brad Pitt,” sending the room into uproarious laughter. Dubinsky, not one to be outdone, declared he’d be the mayor of Trencin (the Slovakian town Gaborik hails from), eliciting more laughter.
One thing that took me by surprise was just how funny Gaborik was. For some reason I just wasn’t expecting it from him, but that was what the evening was about – getting to know the players a little bit. We’ll get to know more about this sextet and the rest of their teammates in a matter of weeks when “24/7: Flyers/Rangers: Road to the Winter Classic” premieres on HBO December 14th at 10PM.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927