Participating in a free hockey clinic with dozens of area children in New York's Central Park, former NHL player Nick Fotiu can't help but smile. Growing up in nearby Staten Island, NY, he never had anything like this.
When young Nick Fotiu wanted to play hockey growing up in New York, he and his friends opened up a neighborhood fire hydrant to flood a lot and create a makeshift rink. No, it was not legal.
Since becoming the first New York-born player to play for the Rangers in 1976, Fotiu has been an active participant in the area's hockey community, primarily through his work with Rangers alumni and USA Hockey.
"It's a real thrill for me to come out here. At Rockefeller Center or Central Park, wherever," said the 60-year-old Fotiu. "Being with the kids is what it's all about. I tell them, it's not only hockey that makes it fun. It's the jokes you play. It's all part of the game."
The game of hockey has grown tremendously in the tri-state area since Fotiu first came into the League. Whereas Fotiu was something of a novelty through parts of his NHL career, the sport has since been flooded by players from the region.
And with Fotiu now involved in the Rangers new Go Skate hockey outreach program, it's a development he's thrilled to see in a sport long dominated by athletes from Canada and the Midwest.
"It's an honor for me. I was one of these kids once. I used to sit in the blue seats and watch the Rangers. I know what it's all about to get into a position like this to play hockey," Fotiu said. "Once you're in New York, you're in New York. The heck with Canada. There's nothing like New York."