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 the team's remarkably expensive third-line center.
However, fast forward through a longer than expected offseason and the Rangers now may 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.
The Rangers made their leadership official at a team dinner Friday night, naming Drury the 26th captain in team history, and Gomez and free-agent signee Markus Naslund
Drury shared the captaincy with the Buffalo Sabres
prior to signing with the Rangers, and he also captained the Boston University Terriers when they won the 1995 NCAA championship, his high-school hockey team and the Trumbull, Conn., team that won the 1989 Little League World Series.
"To be the captain anywhere in the NHL is a huge honor and a huge thrill," Drury said. "To do it with the New York Rangers
team that I grew up rooting and cheering for, it's hard to put into words. ... I'm kind of looking at it as if we have three captains. Markus Naslund
was captain for a long time in Vancouver. He has loads of experience, loads of games. Scott Gomez
and I came over together last year and have been together from Day 1. I'll lean heavily on them and we'll tackle it together, the way Danny (Briere) and I did it in Buffalo. We have a good mix."
There's no doubting it's their team now, and it's their job to bring 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 earlier 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 myself and play.
"I had hoped and outwardly said it would be fine, the transition would be great, but it took me some time to get used to being a Ranger."
Now he has to get used to being a captain again. Drury said he has had good role models in that way since entering the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche
"I've been so fortunate in that regard, starting with Joe Sakic
in Colorado," Drury said. "And we had Peter Forsberg
, Rob Blake
and Patrick Roy
and then Raymond Bourque
. The list goes on and on. Last year we had Jaromir, Marty and Brendan. In Calgary I played with Jarome Iginla
. I've been fortunate to learn from a lot of guys."
Gomez's transition to the Rangers wasn't as difficult as Drury's. 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."
“As leaders, you have to be the hardest working guys on the team. Like being the first one there, being an extension of the coaching. The things they want, we have to be ready to implement and show how it's done. It won't just be me, it will also be Markus and Scott and the other veterans as well."
-- Chris Drury
"As leaders, you have to be the hardest working guys on the team," Drury said. "Like being the first one there, being an extension of the coaching. The things they want, we have to be ready to implement and show how it's done. It won't just be me, it will also be Markus and Scott and the other veterans as well."
Even the new players on the team, like 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," 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 Rangers coach Tom Renney to shift Drury 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."
It's what the Rangers expected of the duo back on July 1, 2007.
"When I'm at my best, I'm just being myself," Drury said on a media conference call. "If I step away from that, if any of us do, it doesn't work. I guess I will be a little more accessible to you guys, I imagine."