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Stanley Cup Final

Years later, former Knicks and Rangers maintain bond

Friday, 10.12.2012 / 1:40 PM / NHL Insider

By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

Any office environment can benefit from a cooperative workplace in which everyone gets along. If that workplace happens to be an arena housing both an NHL and NBA franchise, then winning sure doesn't hurt.

NHL INSIDER

NYR moments part of MSG retrospective

By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer
When Madison Square Garden opens its doors following its final round of renovations in November, the redone concourse will include a visual retrospective including great moments in Rangers history. READ MORE ›

During Madison Square Garden's historic spring in 1994, a winning spirit helped to establish a strong bond between Knicks and Rangers players. With both teams enjoying recent success following prolonged playoff droughts, those relationships have been rekindled.

"It's a close-knit family. We have our training center up in Westchester and because both teams live under the same roof there as well as down in the city at the Garden, it's one big family," said Adam Graves, who played 10 seasons with the Rangers and now works in the team's Prospect Development and Community Relations departments. "It's great they're friends. That's where it's special."

The keystone of that relationship was the epic spring of 1994, which saw the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years and the Knicks come within one victory of the NBA title. In their respective playoff runs, the two teams crossed paths countless times at the Garden and developed a respect for one another that remains strong almost 20 years later.

"[Knicks] coach [Pat] Riley made sure we were a family. That's the way he was brought up. He came from a big family and he brought that with him. He made sure we all appreciated one another and respected one another and fought hard for one another," said John Starks, a longtime Knicks guard who now serves as the team's adviser for alumni relations and fan development. "With the Rangers, it was the same exact thing. Playing six, seven months together, you develop a close bond. The Rangers were no different than the Knicks. Those guys fought hard for one another and they protected one another."

For years, the Knicks and Rangers have adopted similar tactics when integrating new players into the environment at Madison Square Garden. For a number of young players on both teams, that meant occasionally running into each other away from the arena. That familiarity helped forge a bond between players through the 1990s. With both teams now featuring former players in their club administration, those old relationships have had a chance to evolve over time -- especially between fan favorites Starks and Graves.

"I get to see John at a lot of our Garden of Dreams [charity] events. We often chat about that [1994] run. [Former Knicks forward] Anthony Mason, we lived in the same apartment [building] in Westchester and we used to talk all the time and I got to know him very well. We enjoyed that whole spring together," said Graves, who had a chance to catch up with Starks at a recent MSG event introducing the arena's new Garden 366 exhibit. "It's funny, when you get back together, it takes you right back to those times. That's why I love these events."

A winning spirit back in 1994 -- largely due in part to Patrick Ewing and Mark Messier -- helped to establish a strong bond between Knicks and Rangers players. With both teams enjoying recent success, those relationships have been rekindled. (Photo: Rebecca Taylor/MSG Photos)

With both the Rangers and Knicks qualifying for the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, the excitement at MSG has been renewed -- prior to that, 1997 was the last time both teams qualified for the postseason in the same year. So when the Rangers enjoyed a prolonged playoff run last season, their Knicks brethren were there to cheer them on.

During Game 5 of the Rangers' second-round series against the Washington Capitals, Starks was in attendance with former Knicks teammate Larry Johnson, who now serves as the team's Basketball and Business Operations Representative. When Johnson saw himself featured on the arena scoreboard, he elicited one of the biggest cheers of the night when he opened his jacket to reveal a Rangers T-shirt. It was a spirited show of solidarity that has become a mainstay of the Garden.

"That was cool. I almost got hit by the puck. That wasn't cool. It was exciting," Starks said. "I've been to Rangers games, but that playoff atmosphere is at a whole other level. To be in there and just listen to the passion from the fans, it means a lot."

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round