Yankee Stadium will be hosting two very special outdoor games as part of the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series. It starts Jan. 26 when the New York Rangers face the New Jersey Devils and continues Jan. 29 when the Rangers meet the New York Islanders.
As someone who has played for all three teams, I have a unique perspective on these rivalries.
Personally I think the atmosphere at these games is going to be nuts. If you haven't lived or spent time in the New York metropolitan area, you don't really understand how much people love hockey there. You think it's the Giants, the Jets, the Knicks and everybody else.
Unless you spend time there you don't know how much people really love hockey. We're talking millions of people in the area, from Broadway to Long Beach to Morristown, N.J. The fact that they support three teams within that radius is mind-boggling. It's not just because of the population. It's about the passion.
My first game with the Islanders we played against the Rangers. I understand that passion. At that point in time we were the young, scrappy guys going against the Rangers. Then there's Islanders-Devils and Rangers-Devils. I've lived it from every angle. One common denominator for me is the amount of passion and support for the game and for those teams in that entire market. It's unique. I don't think there is anything like it.
And each team has its own unique, passionate fan base.
The Islanders' fan base is very loyal. It goes back to the success that they had in the 1980s with great players like Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Butch Goring, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. All those guys were such a big part of that franchise. A lot of fans grew up on that era and there have been challenges since. Through all the ownership changes and coaching changes they now have John Tavares, who is a star, and some other nice players.
One thing I will say about them is Islanders fans are very passionate. They've also been very patient. They love their team. They came out at many different times when things were dark. They came out and they rocked the jerseys. And they don't only rock Tavares jerseys. If you go to an Islanders game you may see a Trottier jersey, you may see a Billy Smith jersey, a Ziggy Palffy jersey, a Mike Peca jersey. It's pretty impressive how committed and passionate they've been through the years and through the ups and the downs.
When you look at some of the young pieces they have there and the fact that they made the playoffs last year, there are a lot of reasons for optimism with the New York Islanders. They're a very difficult team to play against when they're on their game. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the Rangers you have an Original Six team. With an Original Six team it's very special. There is a lineage; there is a history of great players. There are grandfathers and great-grandfathers that have watched the Rangers. The history of that team and their fan base goes back a long time.
The fans bleed blue. Go to Madison Square Garden anytime and see people rocking the Rangers hats, Rangers T-shirts, Rangers key chains, phone case, you name it. It's very interesting for me to have been a part of an Original Six team.
Rangers fans have high expectations, I'll tell you that. They're not shy. It's New York. But they have a legion of fans all over the world. There are Rangers fans in Scotland, in London, in Paris -- they're all around the world. No matter where you are someone is always repping the Rangers.
Also something a lot of people don't know is there is a real blue-collar element to the Rangers fans too. A lot of people think it's all Wall Street guys and celebrities. But there are a lot of blue-collar fans within Blueshirts United. That's something people don't give them credit for. If you want to make it in New York you've got to be ready to grind. People respect that. It's not all flash like people think. That is why Rangers fans appreciate a Dominic Moore or a Ryan Callahan.
When it comes to the Devils you have a picture of consistency. The Devils have a very understanding fan base. They understand that New York is New York. They understand that the Islanders in their heyday were the Islanders. And all the Devils have done is go to five Stanley Cup Finals.
Among Devils fans the motto is, "We see all this going around us but all we do is get the job done." All that team has done is find a way. It starts with Lou Lamoriello and Martin Brodeur being there as long as he has.
It's almost as if the way Lou operates rubs off on the fans. They love their team, they're passionate. By and large Devils fans are also very respectful. They just find a way to get it done, just like the team. That's a big part of New Jersey. Their belief is, "This is how we are, this is how we do things, we're the Devils. This is the way we roll. Hey, another Cup Final appearance."
That's very impressive.
So when all these fans meet up for two big outdoor games you know there is going to be plenty of passion in Yankee Stadium.