New York is obviously a huge hockey market but not known as a hockey hot bed per se. How did you get into playing hockey in a city dominated by street basketball?
"It was pretty easy for me. My father worked at Madison Square Garden, but he was also a roller hockey player. He's the one who got my whole family into the sport of hockey. I had three older brothers who played roller hockey. My brother Kenny was the one that actually jumped to ice hockey and led the rest of us to ice hockey."
Can you tell me about that period in the city in terms of who you'd play with and the interest in roller hockey?
"I started roller skating when I was about 5 years old. There was a league in our neighborhood. We'd play between 49th and 50th Streets and 49th between 9th and 10th Avenue. There was a fellow by the name of Joe Horvat who ran the PAL on 52nd Street on 10th Avenue. He started a little roller hockey league for us. They called it the Peanut League. It was kids from ages 7 and up through grammar school. The big league would be all the high school kids."
"In the Peanut League, they had close to 10 teams with 10 to 15 kids on each team. Then the high school kids would play after on Sundays. It was all the same kids coming week after week. I had my own clique of guys that lived in the neighborhood. We'd play hockey every afternoon in the same school yard."
Hard transition from roller to ice?
"The skills and everything was pretty seamless. Passing and stickhandling, all that was pretty seamless, but the skating was the most difficult thing. I was on the old roller skates. I guess the kids call them quad skates. Then I had to get used to being on ice and stopping and shooting and skating on the ice. That was the most difficult part of the transition. Everything else was pretty seamless. The hockey concepts, I had that all down.
"I could remember being on the ice skates and I couldn't stay up after I took a shot to save my life. Every time I took a shot the puck I'd fall down. Stopping was difficult for me. It took me time to get used to all that stuff"
Despite the tough transition, your love of the game kept you going?
"Absolutely. I'm finding now with the Learn to Play program that I'm on the ice with all the kids that are just beginning. They can stand up for one or two strides and then they fall down. You go over and you pick them up and put them back on their feet. They try again. It's so much fun to see these kids trying their hardest."
You ran the Learn to Play program last year. How did it go?
"The first year was fantastic. It's the most satisfying program I've been involved with in my whole life, especially coaching wise. We get to see the kids for 12 weeks, so we get to see them as what we call the Flippers and Floppers, where they stand up, they fall down, they take a stride, they fall down, they stand up again. They're our Flippers and Floppers. They go from that to over a 12-week period to flying around the rink. It's incredible to see the progression of all these kids go from beginner to just loving the game like I do."
It must be extra special for you because you were that kid.
"Oh absolutely. For a coach, for a guy who came from Hell's Kitchen, to see the development of these kids, it's the most satisfying program I've ever been involved with."
Excited about Year 2?
"I'm really excited. I love the program. From the time the kids go and get their equipment - when the kids pick up their equipment, it's like going under the Christmas tree and finding all this hockey equipment. They go around the sports store and pick it all up and at the end they get their Ranger jersey. We welcome them to the New York Rangers like they've just been drafted into the organization. Their faces just light up. Usually I'm there or Adam Graves or another alumni, and we take a picture. From the time they pick up their equipment to the time they put it on, it's really a whole process. I really enjoy it every step of the way."
For more information about the Learn to Play program and registration details, please click here.