It’s hard to be a hockey fan without developing a great admiration for the game’s incredibly rich and compelling history.
How else can one explain why those who live and breathe hockey revere the Stanley Cup in a way that goes way beyond what fans of other sports feel for their respective sports’ hardware? Or why is it that the words “Original Six” still mean so much to so many in the hockey world, even though they reference an era that passed more than 40 years ago?
|The former Madison Square Garden on Eighth Ave. between 49th and 50th Streets, was both the birthplace of the New York Rangers and the hockey home of Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell. |
It is just as hard to be a True Blue New York Rangers fan without developing a passion for all things Rangers stretching back to the team’s founding in 1926.How else can one explain why Blueshirts fans simply won’t let go of a chant about an unpopular opposing player who retired more than 20 years ago? Or why did the team’s Stanley Cup championship resonate so deeply with even the younger fans who had not personally experienced most of the 54-year drought that June 14, 1994, erased?
Something special about hockey causes those who embrace it most to make rooting for their favorite teams a religious experience, and the hockey fans of New York are no exception. Rangers fans’ bond with those who wear the uniform is remarkably profound. Within many families, a deep and abiding love for the Blueshirts is passed down from generation to generation -- witnessed by the tenure of countless Season Subscribers, some of whom have held the tickets in their family for more than half a century.
There are people at every Rangers home game whose grandparents -- and even great-grandparents -- were declaring “I am a Ranger” as they attended games in the days of the Original Six. NHL hockey and the greater New York area have both changed a lot over the past 50 years, but the connection between the team and its fans hasn’t changed one bit.
Fans still appreciate -- and revel in -- the magnitude of each goal by the home team, still boo questionable calls by the officials, still stand up from their seats when the gloves are dropped, still demand that players give 100 percent every shift, still get nervous during the third period of close games, and still turn to each other with the greatest sense of communal satisfaction when two standings points move into the Blueshirts’ column.
This is perhaps the reason why the upcoming Feb. 22 “Legendary Blue” pregame ceremony honoring Hockey Hall of Famers Andy Bathgate
and Harry Howell
promises to be such a special celebration of not just two remarkable men but of the tradition that is Rangers hockey. Even those who never saw Bathgate or Howell hold a hockey stick can take tremendous pride in what their special night represents.
Over the past 83 years, there have been numerous other professional hockey teams in the New York area but only one has remained constant since 1926 – fostering the growth of what is arguably New York’s strongest emotional connection between any professional sports team and its supporters.
Ask any former or current Rangers player what word comes to mind first in characterizing Rangers fans, and the response will almost always be “passion”. That passion has always been there – from the team’s early years at the old Madison Square Garden to the modern day, high-tech world where a new generation of die-hards stays connected to the Blueshirts on a constant basis through their home computers and wireless devices.
That passion makes it easy for even young Rangers fans whose strongest connections to the Rangers come through Henrik Lundqvist
, Chris Drury or Scott Gomez to understand why the celebration of Bathgate and Howell celebrates exactly what they hold dear today.
As the hockey record books show us, and the Feb. 22 event will remind us, no two players could be more deserving of the honor that awaits them than Bathgate and Howell. Bathgate and Howell were not just great NHL players, they were great Rangers. Seeing them at center ice reminds us of generations of New Yorkers who have shared the same passion for guys on skates wearing red, white and blue.
That never-changing Rangers passion becomes even more remarkable when one consider how different the world around it was when Bathgate and Howell first joined the Rangers in 1952. Here are just a few areas to consider: The Neighborhood
– The entire Original Six and Bathgate eras -- and all but one full year of the Howell era -- played out at the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Ave. between 49th and 50th Streets. The League
– Bathgate and Howell made their living in a six-team NHL, one-fifth the size of today’s league. The “Original Six” era spanned a period of roughly 25 years. Bathgate and Howell were Rangers for 12 and 15 of those Original Six years and are likely the two greatest players in team history to have spent the bulk of their careers in that time period. The Sports World
– When Howell and Bathgate were in their prime, most players in the league needed to work summer jobs to support their families. Sports was a form of entertainment for the public in the same way a Broadway show or dinner at a nice restaurant was a form of entertainment. The majority of hockey players were respected for their abilities, but they weren’t idolized and there was virtually no market for autographs or memorabilia. Television was in its relative infancy as well. New York sports fans received virtually all of their Rangers information from the city's many daily newspapers -- more than twice the total in print today.
There are many more things about the Original Six era to be rediscovered in a month that is all about Rangers history and pride. Over the days between now and Feb. 22, newyorkrangers.com will look back at both what Bathgate and Howell accomplished on the ice and the say they were viewed by the hockey world of their day.
In recalling so many pivotal events from these two legends career, we will also come to see why it has been so easy for so many to develop such a remarkable and enduring pride in the Blueshirts’ storied history.