– The hype surrounding the two games in Switzerland on Tuesday and Wednesday would suggest training camp is over for the New York Rangers
Roughly 150 media credentials were issued by the International Ice Hockey Federation. Cameramen are documenting everything from the on-ice practices to the conversations players are having in the area between the SC Bern and New York dressing rooms. Reporters are huddling around European stars like Henrik Lundqvist
and Markus Naslund
, making it look and feel like the team is home in New York, not 4,000 miles away.
But for three Rangers in particular, the next two games, against SC Bern and Metallurg Magnitogorsk, mean much more than a final tuneup for the regular season or a chance to showcase the NHL on a grand international stage.
Forward Lauri Korpikoski
and defensemen Brian Fahey
and Corey Potter
still are trying to make the team. The last thing they want to receive from the Rangers after Wednesday night's game against Magnitogorsk is a plane ticket home.
"It's weird to call it an exhibition game," Korpikoski said, referring to Tuesday's game against SC Bern. "It's not the right word. It's more of an elimination game for me."
The Rangers confirmed they are definitely sending two players home Thursday morning. They have to because they have 26 players here – including 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies.
Korpikoski, who played and scored in one playoff game last season – his only NHL game – is trying to earn one of the last forward positions. Potter and Fahey, two former college hockey standouts who never have played an NHL game, are battling to be the team's seventh defenseman.
Goalie Miika Wiikman
is with the team, too, and even though there is no chance for him to take backup Stephen Valiquette
's job now, the Rangers will bring him to Prague as the third goalie just in case of injury.
"It's easy to get wrapped up in the whole event, but I know for myself, and I'm sure for the other guys, too, we're still trying to earn a spot on this team so it's just a continuation of training camp," Fahey said. "Camp isn't going to end for all of us even after the season starts. Camp is always ongoing for guys on the fringe and that's the way I'm approaching it. I'm enjoying my time here, but I know I have a job to do."
Korpikoski and Potter both are products of the Rangers' minor-league system.
Korpikoski was a first-round pick in 2004 who has played the last two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the club's American Hockey League affiliate. Potter, who played four years at Michigan State, was a fourth-round pick in 2003 who played part of 2006-07 and all of last season with the Wolf Pack.
Fahey, a former University of Wisconsin standout, was taken by Colorado in the fourth round of the 2000 draft. He turned pro in 2003 and has played in the AHL since 2005. He won the Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves last season.
"It's weird to call it an exhibition game. It's not the right word. It's more of an elimination game for me."
-- Rangers rookie Lauri Korpikoski on Tuesday's game vs. SC Bern.
"They have come with the proper mental skills to try to make this team," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "They have seized the moment, seized the opportunity to put their best foot forward. They deserve to be here. I don't mind if they think it's an elimination game, but most importantly I don't want them to put so much pressure on themselves that they're frozen and can't do what they do instinctively."
Even so, Fahey said it's not a stretch to call Tuesday's game the most important of his career considering the ramifications of the decisions that could be coming. He's 27 and it's fair to say his time is running out.
"My goal has always been to play in the NHL and there are a lot of guys that have been on the path I'm on that have come over here to Europe and have done very well for themselves," Fahey said. "I told myself coming out of college that I would give myself a few years and if it wasn't going to happen that I'd come over. I just feel that every year I'm closer and closer and I'm just so close now that there is still time for me to make that jump. I feel that I'm right there. New York is giving me a great opportunity. I have to keep doing what I'm doing and create a job for myself."
For Korpikoski and Potter, the ramifications of the Rangers' ultimate decisions aren't so critical considering they're still relatively young – Korpikoski is 22 and Potter is 24 – and can return to the minor leagues without having to clear waivers.
Of course, that doesn't make their urgency to make it any less severe.
"Camp isn't going to end for all of us even after the season starts. Camp is always ongoing for guys on the fringe and that's the way I'm approaching it. I'm enjoying my time here, but I know I have a job to do." -- Rangers rookie Brian Fahey
"There's still more to do," Korpikoski said. "It's a week before the season starts and that's a long time. We have two games and I have to prove I belong here. I don't want to speculate if I'll make the team. There's still a week to go."
Well, maybe only another two days, but the fact that Korpikoski, Potter and Fahey are with the Rangers in Bern suggests the team is giving them a serious look. The Rangers made 16 cuts the day before they left for Europe, but these three made it.
"My goal (coming into camp) was to definitely make the roster that heads over to Europe," Fahey said. "I don't want to pat myself on the back yet, though. It was a good first step and now it's just another series of first steps."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.