By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
A little bit more than two minutes into the third period of the Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Donald Brashear heard something he had yet to hear at MSG.
|Donald Brashear got a taste of how much fun it can be when The Garden crowd gets behind him, and is determined to enjoy that support on a regular basis. |
Brashear, who had just engaged Washington’s Brandon Sugden in a long heavyweight battle on the ice, heard The Garden fans loudly cheering for him. After 15 years playing the role of villain during his various trips to New York, Brashear -- a Ranger now -- was clearly being embraced by The Garden Faithful.
“It seems like a tough crowd, but I’ll find a way to win their hearts,” Brashear said after Thursday’s game.
One of the most renowned fighters in the history of the National Hockey League, Brashear has totaled 2,561 penalty minutes in 989 career games. Many of his fights and punishing hits have come against the Rangers, especially during the seven seasons he wore the jerseys of two of his current team’s most heated Eastern Conference rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.
Just because he signed with the Rangers as a free agent on July 1, Brashear did not expect to be greeted with open arms and standing ovations from the Garden Faithful. He understood that emotions run long and deep, and it would take time for the fans to accept Brashear as one of their own, particularly after his hit that sidelined one of the Rangers last spring.
“If the fans are mad, they’re mad,” said Brashear, who squared off twice with Sugden on Thursday. “Maybe it’s because of Blair Betts, I don’t know. I don’t really read into it. I’ve played in this league a long time and I know what I can do, and how I can help the team. I’m just going to try and show it and hopefully they can appreciate it.”
Thursday’s fisticuffs and bruising play provided Rangers fans with a glimpse of what it is like to have one of the league’s truly elite enforcers on their side.
“I got a little feel for what they like, that’s for sure,” said Brashear of the Garden fans. “They want to see some action out there, want to see me getting some hits and fights. That’s the job that I do, and that’s what has brought me up in the NHL.”
It is not an easy job that he does. And it is not often that someone who plays the difficult role that Brashear does lasts as long as he has.
To put it into perspective, Brashear has been dropping the gloves with the top fighters in the game since his rookie season of 1993-94 -- the very same year that the Rangers won a Stanley Cup. Only Alex Kovalev, a finesse player, is still playing in the NHL from that 1994 Cup-winning team, but Brashear, at the age of 37, is still in the league, too.
While winning the fans over will take some time here in New York, Brashear has been openly welcomed by his Rangers teammates and coaches, who have tremendous respect for the important role he fills with the club. And they know, too, that Brashear’s game is not solely about fighting.
“Donald Brashear is going to be a big part of the hockey club,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said Thursday. “He’s done a lot of heavy lifting for a lot of teams and he’s going to serve as a pretty important guy for this hockey team.”
Tortorella, who likes Brashear’s skating ability as well as his toughness, gave the 6-foot-3, 237-pounder some time on the power play against the Capitals, something that will happen during the regular season, too.
“He did a good job there,” noted Tortorella.
Acceptance will most assuredly come at The Garden for Brashear. And clearly he started to shift the momentum in his favor on Thursday night.
“I just try and give a little action to the fans,” Brashear said with a smile. “All I know is that I will find a way to win their hearts, and they will be with me.”