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Gomez, Drury have taken control of Rangers

by Dan Rosen
PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- As the day unfolded, everyone around the New York Rangers figured July 1, 2007 was becoming a hallmark day in the team's history.

First, the rumors of Chris Drury coming to play for his childhood team came true. Then Scott Gomez jumped the Hudson River to join him. Two centers with four Stanley Cup rings between them were joining Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka.

It was a can't-miss situation. In a span of a couple of hours on that sunny summer afternoon in New York, the Rangers went from being a team on the verge of being a Stanley Cup contender to a team that was a certain Stanley Cup contender.

It didn't work out last season. The Rangers busted out in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season and Drury, at times, was playing as the team's remarkably expensive third-line center.

However, fast forward through a longer-than-expected offseason and the Rangers may now be seeing the fruits of that hallmark day.

Without Jagr, Shanahan and Straka -- the Rangers' captain and two alternates, respectively, last season -- Gomez and Drury have taken over the dressing room in a manner befitting the hype they came into it with.

While coach Tom Renney was expected to be name one of them captain Friday night at dinner, there's no doubting it's their team now, and their task of bringing the Rangers over the hurdle Jagr, Straka and Shanahan couldn't leap.

"The roles are there; we lost a C and two A's," Drury said Friday after the Rangers practiced in preparation for the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Prague. "That's going to be expected of us. Everyone is on board as far as leadership goes, but hockey-wise just not being the new guy has helped me a lot. That's why I tried to help the guys we got this summer slide in to make their transition easier."

Drury admitted the transition to New York was difficult on him last season. He said it wasn't until January that he finally got settled in and got to be himself and play.

"I had hoped and outwardly said it would be fine, the transition would be great," said Drury, "but it took me some time to get used to being a Ranger."

The transition wasn't so difficult for Gomez. Unlike Drury, who had to move his family from Western New York into Manhattan, Gomez didn't need a map to get around. All he did was move from New Jersey across the river into Manhattan.

The jersey was different as he was on the other side of the heated Rangers-Devils rivalry, but that was the only hardship involved in his move. He didn't gel with Jagr, but did find chemistry playing with Shanahan and Sean Avery.

Drury struggled for a while. He finished with 58 points, his lowest output since the lockout. Gomez had 70 points, 10 more than what he put up in New Jersey the season before.

"I laugh about it," Drury said. "My wife and kids hit the ground running and never looked back, but I'm the one who took a while to get going. It was different."

So is this season, but only because of the shoes they're filling, at least from a leadership standpoint?

No one is saying Drury or Gomez are different people or players than they were last season or from what they've been throughout their successful NHL careers, but many Rangers believe it has been a fluid transition from the Jagr-Straka-Shanahan era to the new Drury-Gomez era.

"The main reason that it has been so easy is those two guys are such great team guys," Brandon Dubinsky said. "Everyone likes them and wants to hang around them and wants to listen to them. They are not only good friends, but they know what they're talking about. It makes it really easy.

"Sometimes some of those guys aren't approachable, but each of them treats us young guys like they treat a 10- or 15-year veteran. That makes it special. It takes a little of the edge off some of us young guys. We're not tippy-toeing around. Sometimes young guys can have an intimidating feeling around the older guys, but you don't find that in this room because those guys are so welcoming and encouraging."

Even the new players on the team, like Markus Naslund, quickly saw that despite the veteran presence in the Rangers' dressing room, Gomez and Drury run the show.

“They're both great players and great leaders yet they are totally different people. They bring a lot of the things you need to be successful."
-- Rangers Markus Naslund on teammates Scott Gomez and Chris Drury

"They're both great players and great leaders yet they are totally different people," Naslund said. "They bring a lot of the things you need to be successful."

And they're doing it together thanks to their obvious chemistry, which has prompted Renney to change Drury's position from center to right wing so he and Gomez could play together on the top line.

The more they're on the ice together, be it in even strength or specialty situations (both kill penalties and play on the first power-play unit), the more Drury and Gomez can unify themselves as the leaders of this club.

"Exhibit A is the third period the other night," Renney said, referring to the Rangers' third-period comeback against Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Victoria Cup game Wednesday.
The Rangers were down 3-0, but Drury scored a 5-on-3 power-play goal with 28 seconds left in the second period to get the Rangers started. He scored again on the power play in the third period, stuffing home the rebound of Gomez's shot from inside the left circle to tie the game at 3-3. Ryan Callahan scored the winner with 20 seconds left.

"Continuity is a tough thing to grab hold of (in the preseason), never mind being presented with the opportunity to step up," Renney said. "The third period the other night presented that and I thought they did a great job with it."

Considering Gomez and Renney don't believe one person can fill Jagr's shoes -- his talent, experience and larger-than-life personality defined the Rangers for four seasons -- having two people worthy of taking a shot is, of course, better.

It's what the Rangers expected of the duo back on July 1, 2007.

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