A hockey fan’s struggle: love of the players vs. love of the game

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Life has been busy and I didn’t feel I could do the world’s greatest game justice with my limited writing time. The life of a graduate student…. But sometimes, something happens in this league that is so important, so upsetting, that you just have to make the time to write about it. Unfortunately, this is the situation I find myself in now.

It is no secret that I am a HUGE Rangers fan. What you might not know is that Ryan McDonagh (a.k.a. Mac, MacTruck, Trucker) is my favorite player. The effort he puts into his game day in and day out, the dedication he has to the Rangers, and his leadership are all truly admirable, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to call him my Captain, and to get to watch him play for us at Madison Square Garden so frequently.

So imagine the horror I felt when I went to Philadelphia a mere 13 days ago to see my beloved team play, and Wayne Simmonds hit Trucker in the face. This was so scary. As soon as I heard the words, “will not return,” I knew he had a concussion. How could he not, from such a savage hit? Unbelievable.

Surely Simmonds would get suspended, right? No, of course not. For a league that claims to be cracking down on player safety and so concerned with protecting its players, it’s truly amazing just how many players are getting away with plays like this. I was floored. He didn’t even have a hearing. He played the next day! But Mac? No. Mac missed the next 4 games, over a period of 8 days. Where’s the justice, you might ask? There is none.

I was so excited on Wednesday when the Rangers announced that Mac would return in the game against the Blackhawks. Of course, I was a little nervous – you hope he won’t get hurt again right away. But I figured at least this isn’t the most dangerous team to come back against. They’re a skill team, not overly-physical. They play hockey, the right way. And Mac was fine.

Next up, Toronto. Whenever we play Toronto, I worry about Dion Phaneuf. I always remember in 2011, when Phaneuf gave Michael Sauer what ended up being a career-ending concussion. I worry that Phaneuf might hurt another one of my guys. But this time, I thought, I don’t have to worry so much! You see, Phaneuf was recently traded to the Ottawa Senators, as part of a 9-player trade. This should make the game safer. Hopefully, it should be okay.

For me, one of the best things about hockey is that while you can make predictions about games, you really can’t know exactly what to expect on any given night. Unfortunately, while this is one of the game’s greatest assets, it is also one of the worst parts of the game. You never know when someone is going to get hurt. You can never tell when someone who has never injured a player will viciously attack a player you love. Even one who returned the night before from a concussion that he sustained less than 2 weeks ago.

Leo Komarov. A player I never would have thought I’d have to worry about. A player whose name I don’t even think of when I think about Toronto – which I’ll admit, doesn’t happen too often. But Leo Komarov made himself quite evident to the hockey world last night. Not by scoring, not by helping his team, but by hitting an unsuspecting Ryan McDonagh savagely in the jaw. Illegal check to the head. Match Penalty. Out.

This is truly the worst part of hockey -the injuries. I generally believe there are different ways you can categorize fans. There are those there for the violence, those who love the game in general, those who live and die by a particular team’s status, and those who follow not only the standings, but also the players as people. This is not to say that you can’t fall into more than one category, of course.

I am a die-hard Rangers fan and a true adorer of the game itself. I have been for 10 years, and I always will be. Nights like last night make me wonder if I should stop supporting something that hurts so many people I care about. But the thing is, once you care this much, you can’t just stop. You really can’t. You can’t stop caring about the wins, but more importantly, you can’t stop caring about the players. This morning, when I woke up, the first thing I thought about last night’s game was, “Oh no, McDonagh.” It wasn’t until almost an hour after I woke up that I remembered we won the game. What a lot of people forget when they watch hockey, when they cheer for the savage hits, the fights, the penalties, is that these guys are not just hockey players. These are not fictional characters skating around on tv. These are peoplePeople with families. Ryan McDonagh is someone’s son. Someone’s husband. Someone’s father. He’s not just the Captain of the New York Rangers. To so many people, he is someone. You would hope that the other players would understand that more than anyone. But they don’t. They just don’t.

I understand that Komarov has a hearing today, and that he’ll (maybe, and this is a big maybe) actually get punished. That’s great. Maybe he’ll learn something. But you know what? That doesn’t help McDonagh. That won’t help him physically heal, if he is injured. We don’t know what McDonagh’s status is today – hopefully he’s fine and he’ll be traveling back with the team today like normal. But these repeated checks to the head cause real damage – physically and emotionally. It’s really becoming hard to watch.

So today I sit, writing, feeling more deeply about the game than I have in awhile. I’m furious at Komarov for his actions in yesterday’s game. I’m still angry at the league for not punishing Simmonds for his affront to our Captain (and for their failure to suspend Gudas for his offenses, but that’s another story for another post). But most of all, I am sad. Sad that McDonagh might be hurt again. Sad that McDonagh, a player who doesn’t look for trouble, who works so hard, who sticks to his game, who shows such devotion to hockey and to the Rangers, was so unjustly targeted. Sad about the stress that he and his family must be feeling today. And finally, sad that this is considered, “part of the game.”

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Raclette Night

Farmin' Cityfolk

IMG_4933Our beautiful friend Amelie invited us to a Raclette Night last week! For those of you sadly not in the know, raclette is a French (or Swiss, depending on whom you ask) cheese dish in which a table-top grill is used to heat individual-sized cheese pans that are then poured onto bread, potatoes, and meat.

Dinner consisting of mainly cheese?

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Um, yes please. (Or, my French excuse: “Oui, oui, c’est vendredi!”)

Amelie extraordinaire! Amelie extraordinaire!

Just upon entering Amelie’s home the wafting scent of fromage came adrift down the hallway, which might sound unappetizing but was in fact so enticing it acted as a homing beacon.IMG_4946IMG_4951IMG_4957

Untraditional as it may be, I wonder if pouring raclette over vegetables could also be fair game. If I get the green light, next time I might show up with a basket full of CSA broccoli or brussels sprouts and get crazy.

These two. These two.

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After the dairy-palooza, as if…

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I’m back! And so are the Rangers!

So, it’s been awhile!

Okay, so I’ve been a little bit busy (understatement of the year) with work and other things lately…. Sorry for the very, very long silence! What better time to start writing again than when the Rangers are on a three game winning streak?

Yeah, I couldn’t think of one either.

So the Rangers, not unlike the team we knew and loved last season, were off to a pretty rough start. This time, injuries definitely seemed to play a role – we lost Stepan to a broken leg in training camp, Dan Boyle immediately in our first regular season game to a broken hand, then McDonagh to a separated (again) shoulder, Dan Boyle a second time to the flu…not to mention Glass and now Brassard to the mumps. Health-wise, it sure hasn’t been pretty.

But mumps, and other, more typical injuries aside, the Rangers managed to have a fairly decent start to the season. The guys have pretty much stayed around 0.500, even with all of their ailments. Not too bad, considering. But of course, also a bit frustrating, especially after last year’s Cup run.

But now, things are finally starting to look better. And when we really think about it, was it really that bad before? Sure, we had some pretty rough games – mostly against Tampa. I mean those were just..painful..on so many levels. I don’t even want to think about it.

But amidst those rough games, we had a bunch of really great ones! I mean, why is it that we are SO good at beating Pittsburgh, when it seems like pretty much EVERYONE else has a hard time with them!? Not that it’s easy for us to beat them. Well, I guess that 5-0 win in November wasn’t too difficult…. Anyway, our ease in defeating this division leader, not to mention our complete and total dominance over Philly, were certainly highlights of this first part of the season.

And now, it’s December. A wonderful time of year, if you love hockey and cold weather, like I do. Around this time last year, the Rangers started to really get it together. They finally started to look like a team – the lines started clicking, Hank started to really be Hank again. It was beautiful.

Seems like the same sort of thing is happening this year, too!

These past three games have been what I believe will be the start of an upward climb for the Rangers. Three epic wins in a row! Very exciting!

And these opponents (with the exception of Edmonton – that’s another story…) have not been easy ones! I think most of you know how difficult Pittsburgh can be. But we managed, again, to defeat them last Monday. In overtime!! What’s more exciting than beating your rival in OT? Maybe beating them in the Conference Semis. Oh WAIT! We DID that!! 😉

I know that everyone and their brother has already written about how awesome Klein is, but I just have to say something myself. Kevin Klein is hard-core! In the game against Pittsburgh, he basically had his ear sliced off, got it stitched back on on the bench, and then came back to score the game-winner in OT! WHAT?! Isn’t that completely ridiculous, and totally the reason we love hockey players!? Amazing. Just amazing.

I loved that Klein goal. I saw him get the puck at the point, and I remember thinking to myself, “Point shot Klein, you can get it!” and he did. Gotta love this guy. That Del Zotto trade really worked out for us, huh? Klein is already having a career season, and it’s only December! If he keeps up at this pace, it’s going to be truly remarkable.

Vancouver. Let me be honest. I watch Vancouver play, a lot. They’re my Western Conference team. I was a little bit concerned about playing them, knowing that despite their serious troubles with being a hockey team last year, they have been playing quite well this season! I thought this would be a pretty tough game for us. I wasn’t sure it would go so well.

Boy, am I glad I was wrong! 2 goals in 43 seconds? 3 in less than 5 minutes? McDonagh getting his first goal of the season? Zucc getting 2 goals when he only had 4 on the whole season up to that point? Even Staal scored a goal! This game was amazing. Not what I expected. But this gives me a lot of hope for this Rangers team. Our speed was clearly an asset against this particular opponent. And it was beautiful.

Then, Edmonton. Okay, if we had lost to a team that had an 0-15-1 record in its last 16 games, I would have been pretty upset. Fortunately, that didn’t happen! Hank was perfect for his 55th shutout, and we won our third straight contest! What a nice stretch of hockey to get us into the holiday spirit!

Here’s hoping that our Rangers can keep the momentum going to wrap up the Western Canadian portion of their road trip tomorrow against Calgary!

Until next game,

_/.

Katie

Rangers-Last 3 Opponents: It’s okay! We’ll get through this!

Okay. So those last three games were certainly not what we expected. Not what we hoped for. A little frightening, even. But it’s okay! We’ve seen our Rangers get through worse in the past, and we know this group! They’re resilient. They’re focused. They’ll fix it.

Having watched Captain Ryan McDonagh’s postgame comments, I can see that he’s not going to tolerate this kind of play. He wants his team to excel, and he knows that not only is that the hope, it’s the expectation. This group will pull it together, and fast! I’m thinking it’s probably going to be tonight.

Instead of focusing on what went wrong in these three losses – I think we’ve all suffered enough – I’m going to talk about the (few) things that are actually working for us.

Rick Nash has been fantastic! He’s back to his old self, generating amazing scoring chances, and actually finishing them! While I expected Nash to bounce back and have a good season this year, I can’t say that I expected him to score 6 goals in the first 4 games of the season! That’s just awesome. In fact, this makes Nash the first Ranger to ever score in the all of the first 4 games of the regular season! Congratulations, Nasher!! Keep up the excellent work! 🙂

Anthony Duclair is playing like he’s a 10-year NHL veteran. He doesn’t have that typical uneasy rookie look. Duclair has a confidence that I wouldn’t expect to see in a rookie. He knows exactly where to be on the ice at all times, he isn’t a defensive liability, and he’s eager to assist and not just shoot. I can’t see any reason why this kid won’t get to stay here after his 9 game initiation. He’s amazing, and he’s really earned his shot!

While the Rangers were weak defensively, and our goaltending wasn’t perfect on Tuesday against the Islanders, our offense looked good! We managed to get 43 shots! And they were quality chances – it wasn’t one of those games where we just lob pucks to the net and hope something sticks. Heading into the third period, I really thought we had a shot at winning this game! We had taken 21 shots in the second period, we looked fresh, and I thought we’d continue to look strong in the third. But as we all know, that just didn’t happen.

What’s important moving forward is to put this behind us – fast! I know that I, personally, spent at least the first half of my day yesterday being angry about the last three losses, particularly the one to the Islanders. I can only imagine the frustration that the players felt! But it’s time to move on and remember who we are. We are SO much better than this! And we know that. Now, we just have to start playing like it.

I know that we’re going to come out strong tonight against the Hurricanes. If we can play like we did in the first two periods in Tuesday’s contest, we’ll be just fine tonight!

Until next game,

_/.

Katie

Rangers-Blues: In strong start to season, Rangers defeat Blues 3-2

Now, that’s how you start a season!!

On Thursday night, the Rangers took on their first opponent of the 2014-15 regular season. Now, I’m not going to lie – when the schedule was released over the summer, and I saw that the Blues were our first opponent, I was slightly concerned. While I know that my Rangers can beat anyone, playing the Blues has been quite the challenge in the past few years. They, like the Rangers, are a really great hockey team. But last night, the Rangers were the better team! We looked strong in all areas of the ice, generating scoring chances, and looking solid defensively throughout the game. Our speed was immense, as always, and we were well-matched against a tough Blues team. It felt as though the Rangers hadn’t stopped playing all summer – we’re still in playoff mode. And it’s beautiful to watch.

I can’t begin to describe how excited I was to see Rick Nash get the Rangers’ first goal of the season! I knew he would be ready this year – in spite of his lack of scoring in the preseason, I could see that he was well-prepared for the season. But to get his first goal in the first period of the first game of the season? Wow! Way to shut down the media! I’m sure that like me, Nash was probably getting really tired of hearing about how he was in a scoring slump, and how the Rangers would never get anywhere if he couldn’t figure it out. That’s just silly – we went very far without him scoring. And he’s a self-admitted “streaky” player. We had to know he’d come out of it eventually. Fortunately, now appears to be that time.

Nash was definitely one of the best players in the game last night. Apart from his two goals, one being the game-winner, Nash was also excellent defensively. One play that stood out to me was when he threw himself in front of the puck to block a shot right in front of Hank. Beautiful work. In fact, that whole first line of Nash, St. Louis and Kreider was fantastic – an absolute joy to watch. Kreider’s persistence on Nash’s first goal, his battle to force the turnover, obtaining the puck and getting it to a wide-open Nash in front of Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, was admirable. And his speed throughout the game was nothing less than what I would expect of the top 6 forward, but it was still exciting to see that he hadn’t lost anything over the summer. If anything, I’d say he’s improved. Krieder is clearly ready for this season. You’d never know from looking at him that this is only his second full season. Crazy.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Nash’s second goal, specifically the pass from Marty St. Louis. Marty St. Louis, who has never played center in his life. Not bad. In front of the net, Marty had the puck, and he swung it around backwards to Nash, who was able to put it right past Elliott. If you’ve read my blog before this season, you know that I love a good backhand – a pass, a goal, anything. It’s just beautiful. And that was before I started shooting at my own net – yes, I was so desperate for hockey that bought a net and stick and tried it out. After having tried to shoot and pass backhand this summer, I now have an even greater appreciation for this kind of play. It’s not easy! But Marty made it look like it was nothing. Of course he would be able to swing the puck exactly the right way. Why wouldn’t Nash be exactly where he needed to be? This play was gorgeous. And of course, it was the game-winner, so even better!

Marty also had another fantastic scoring chance, when he shot from the right circle, where he always shoots from. He practices that shot 100 times a day, no joke! That’s dedication. He took that shot – the same shot he took in OT of Game 4 against the Canadiens last year – and hit the crossbar. That sound – the most painful sound in all of hockey. But it was a beautiful shot. I look forward to seeing him make that shot tons of times this season.

Someone else whose game really stood out to me last night was Dan Girardi. He, like Nash, is another guy that people have been giving a really hard time all summer and during the playoffs. He had a tough Stanley Cup Final, to say the least. But as with Nash, I am 100% sure that this was a fluke, and he’ll be back to his normal form this season. Struggles don’t mean the end. Girardi came out last night looking like he had something to prove! He was as solid as I’ve ever seen him defensively, and it seemed like most of the defensive plays that stood out last night, to me, were his.

I’m going to take a second to defend Girardi’s hit on Paul Stastny. I know this hit looked awkward, but I know Girardi as a player for many years now, and I just know that he would not purposely do a knee-on-knee hit like that. There is absolutely no way. He has much too much integrity and respect for the game and the players to do something like this. It’s just not the kind of player he is. Even Joe Michaeletti didn’t seem to think this was intentional – he said they looked like Stastny tried to change direction to get away. And let’s face it, Joe knows the game better than I do.

I just have to say – when they showed McDonagh in his sweater with that C on his chest, I got SO EXCITED for the season! That’s when it hit me that this is real – it’s time for hockey!!

The Rangers are back at it tonight against the Blue Jackets. Should be a great one!

Until next game,

_/.

Katie

Rangers 2014-2015 Season Preview: After a short summer, the boys are ready to go!

It’s finally October 9th! This means a couple of things. First, it means that we can finally stop waiting impatiently for the new season to start – the Rangers are finally back!! And second, it means it’s time for me to stop slacking, and start writing!

So, I kind of failed at preseason – I didn’t write anything. But not for lack of watching! I definitely had some strong feelings about which prospects we should introduce into our already packed roster, and the Rangers seemed to agree with me on most of them – that’s always a nice feeling. Here are some things that are on my mind with the start of the season just hours away:

1. Anthony Duclair!! Okay. This kid has been the talk of Rangerstown for the last couple of weeks. I’m sure you’ve all heard about him in some form at this point, but that’s not going to stop me from waxing poetic about him for a bit. This kid is amazing! He turned out to be such a surprise in training camp that the Rangers had to make a trade to have space in the roster for him! That’s a pretty big deal for a 19-year-old who’s just coming out of the QMJHL, not even the AHL! I can’t imagine how psyched this guy is to have made the team.

Not only did Duclair manage to score some seriously pretty goals in a few of his pre-season appearances (like that one off the feed from Nash – wow), he also looked NHL ready when he wasn’t scoring. He was always in the right place on the ice, generating scoring chances with his excellent positioning and a speed that fit right in with the Rangers system. I couldn’t be more thrilled that Duclair made the roster. I have the same feeling about Duclair that I had about Kreider when he started out – there is so much potential there! I can’t wait to watch him grow this year. This kid is going to be huge!

2. JT Miller and Jesper Fast. These are two guys that got to play a few games last year, but weren’t fully ready to make that NHL jump. Miller was a decent scorer last year, but he was a bit too much of a defensive liability for my liking. This is not what I’ve seen from him in these two weeks of preseason. He’s looked much better, and I think he’s finally ready. I’m looking forward to seeing what this kid can do, especially with Stepan’s broken leg leaving an unanticipated hole at center. Fast was also impressive in camp, and I’m really glad he made the final cut.

3. Rick Nash. Okay. Everyone needs to just CALM DOWN ABOUT NASH ALREADY!! He had a rough playoff. But only in one respect! Now, I know that he was hired to score, and he did that during the regular season! He had some serious scoring struggles during the playoffs, but he did everything else really well, becoming a defensive asset and always contributing, even if it wasn’t on the scoreboard. From what I saw in camp, Nash is ready for this season. He had some really good scoring chances, and I am SURE that he will start finishing on those chances when the season starts. Nash will recover from his scoring woes. And it would probably really help if the media would just leave him alone and let him work it out! He’s Rick Nash! He know’s what he’s doing! He’s got this!

4. RYAN McDONAGH IS OUR CAPTAIN!!!!! I can’t even begin to explain just how badly I wanted needed this to happen!! McDonagh has been the consummate leader on and off the ice for the past year. He has grown so much as a player and a leader, becoming one of the league’s best defensemen, shining in the Olympics, and having a career performance in the playoffs. There is immense respect for him from players, staff, and fans around the league, and most of all, from his teammates. I couldn’t be more proud to call him our captain. He truly deserves it.

I also love the fact that we have 4 alternate captains. I honestly didn’t know how they were going to choose only 2. We have so many amazing leaders in our locker room, and it’s fantastic that the organization was able to recognize all of them. For those of you who don’t know, the alternates are Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Martin St. Louis, and Derek Stepan. All of these guys are incredible leaders, and they definitely deserve those letters on their sweaters!

5. We’re different, but the same. In the few preseason games in which the team was substantially the real team and not just prospects, our team still looked like what I know to be the New York Rangers. Although we lost a lot of guys to free agency over the summer – Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, Derek Dorsett and Dan Carcillo – our core is essentially still here. And these guys really know AV’s system. The speed is still there. The exciting scoring chances are still coming. The defense is still strong. Hank and Cam are still solid in net. We look miles ahead of where we were at the beginning of last season, and we all know how far we were able to get after that rough start last year. With a strong start this year, I can only imagine what we’ll do! Plain and simple: we are hungry, and we are ready.

Until next game,

_/.

Katie

Boy, did I miss writing that….

Rangers 2013-2014 Season Reflections

I tried writing this right after the season ended. It was hard. After the Final was over, I was in some pretty serious, depressed mourning for the Cup that could have been. I was devastated that after what felt like such a long, amazing journey to the Final, the Final itself was over in a heartbeat, and not with the result we longed for. It was over. And I couldn’t stop crying.

But now, here we are, more than a month later, and I feel totally different. Sure, I’m still sad that we didn’t win. Mostly for Hank, Mac and the rest of the guys. They deserved it! This really could have been the year. And I still think we could have won. But as sad as it is to watch my team lose the Cup, having the ability to do this means something – we were able to compete for it. For the first time in 20 years, the Rangers are Eastern Conference Champions, and came in 2nd in a really, really tough league. That’s a huge deal!

It’s not like winning the conference was easy! Even the first round against Philly was really tough! But all three rounds were incredible to watch. With the new format, the first two rounds were against division rivals, making the playoffs even more exciting than before! And what’s better than playing your division rivals in the playoffs? Beating them!! Advancing to the Eastern Conference Final by beating our rivals, the Flyers and Penguins, made advancing even sweeter. And while I think most of us can agree that Montreal was the matchup we wanted, not Boston, the Canadiens presented a real challenge, too! I mean, who ever would have expected Tokarski to be that good?

So maybe we didn’t win the whole thing, but what we did accomplish was pretty amazing! And I think we can all agree that although we lost the Final in 5 games, it wasn’t as though we were dominated. Three of the four games we lost were won in OT. Except in Game 3, we were able to score on Jonathan Quick – usually no small feat. And for much of the first two games, we were actually in the lead, never allowing the Kings to lead until their eventual OT victories! I think that most of the hockey world expected the Kings to completely dominate us in the Final, but instead, we held our own, and were really able to match them. Truly impressive.

I look at how this season turned out, and I can’t be anything but proud. Starting from nothing, having a new coaching staff, being a .500 hockey team at the halfway point of the season, and eventually finishing 5th in the Eastern Conference in the regular season? That would have been impressive in itself. But then, we took it so much further, becoming Conference Champions, and proving to the hockey world that we actually can do this. This team was a force to be reckoned with.

Our guys are going to come back even hungrier next year. Considering how much pain we felt as fans, I can only imagine the agony felt by our guys. But I really think that if we keep the remainder of our core together, we can really hit the ground running next season. After the start we had, I had no expectations for this last season. I guess what I’ve learned from this year is that we’re never out, and that a rough start to the season shouldn’t make us lose faith that our team can do something amazing. When you have guys like our Rangers, anything is possible!

Until next season,

_/.

Katie