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Rangers outdoor practice a 'cool experience,' Lundqvist says

Veteran goalie, teammates thrill fans with workout in Central Park

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist was greeted by his wife and two daughters when he came off the ice, his eye black looking pristine and the sun shining on a brisk fall day.

To say Saturday in the city was a regular work day for the New York Rangers and their goalie would be quite the understatement. It was so much better than that. 

The Rangers took it outside for practice in preparation for their game against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, MSG, FS-F, NHL.TV), skating for more than an hour at Lasker Rink in Central Park with fans packing the bleachers and more scattered on the hill opposite the iron fence dividing the park from the rink. 

"You compare this to going to the practice rink like we do every day, this is exciting for everyone just to try something new," Lundqvist said. "Just being on an outdoor rink is a cool experience, but also to have the fans here on a great sunny day in Central Park, I really enjoy it. It doesn't get old to me."

This is the second time the Rangers have held an outdoor practice during Lundqvist's NHL career, now in its 15th season. They also skated at Lasker Rink on Dec. 2, 2017, in preparation for the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Buffalo Sabres on New Year's Day at Citi Field.

Lundqvist appreciated the opportunity then. There was a hint of an even greater appreciation now, both because the Rangers are coming off back-to-back wins against the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes and because at age 37 and with only next season left on his eight-year contract, he doesn't know how many more opportunities like this he'll have.

"My first five, six, maybe seven years in the League I was so focused on the next step," Lundqvist said. "I started to realize as I got older to really appreciate everything, not only playing the game but everything that comes with it; the travel, the people you meet, the organization, the way they treat us. It's part of growing up, you start to appreciate a lot more things in your life and being part of the Rangers is definitely one of them."

He hopes all of the Rangers young players, especially the seven on the team who are 21 or younger, appreciate it the same way. 

Some of them even rode with fans to the practice on the subway. The group included forwards Brett Howden and Ryan Strome, and defensemen Adam Fox, Brady Skjei and Jacob Trouba. 

"We all have skated outside once or twice in our lives, but to do it at this level when you turn pro, I think it reminds you a little bit of why you started to play," Lundqvist said. "This is an opportunity to really enjoy the game. That's what you do when you come out here. You play under a lot of pressure and you need to perform, but there's moments where you also just need to enjoy the moment."

Rookie forward Kaapo Kakko, the youngest player on the Rangers at 18 years old, was trying to do just that.

"So many fans," Kakko said, looking up at the stands as he talked. 

The practice reminded Kakko of all the time he spent skating on outdoor rinks at home in Turku, Finland.

It brought coach David Quinn back to two different times in his life. 

One was his childhood growing up in Cranston, Rhode Island, with what he called a "sports fantasyland" 50 yards out his back door complete with three baseball fields, four basketball courts, a pond that froze in the winter and the city pool. 

"I started skating when I was 4 on a pond and every day was doing something athletic," Quinn said.

He also thought about the times when he was coaching at Boston University and he ran practices at Lasker Rink with kids from the Ice Hockey in Harlem program. The Terriers would come to the outdoor rink in Central Park the Friday after Thanksgiving every other year before playing Cornell at Madison Square Garden the next day.

"I was walking off the ice and one of the Ice Hockey in Harlem kids pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of he and I the first time I was here in 2013," Quinn said. "Here is a 20-year-old growing up. It's special when you come here and do the Hockey In Harlem program and get an opportunity to give back to kids who love hockey so much but aren't as fortunate as we are. It really does hit you emotionally."

Going to work in Central Park with the eyes of Rangers fans on them hit all of the players and their coaches in some type of emotional way Saturday. 

For Lundqvist, it was yet another reminder of what he has and what he means to the fans here.

"It's definitely something I don't take for granted," Lundqvist said.

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