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Higgins excited about New York homecoming

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Rangers fans will be happy to learn that Higgins has also enjoyed great success against the Islanders during his NHL career. Even though he grew up on the Island, Higgins has scored eight times in 15 games against the Islanders.

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Press Release: Rangers Trade Gomez to Montreal

By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

Back in the spring of 1994 Christopher Higgins was miserable, an 11-year-old Montreal Canadiens fan living on Long Island and watching the Rangers capture the Stanley Cup. Now, 15 years later, Higgins arrives on Broadway looking to help the Rangers win their next Stanley Cup championship.

Higgins was acquired Tuesday afternoon by the Rangers as part of a six-player trade with the Montreal Canadiens in which New York also acquired young defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko in exchange for veteran center Scott Gomez, forward Tom Pyatt, and defenseman Mike Busto.

“In ’94 I had to hear it from all of my friends about how much better the Rangers were than the Canadiens, that wasn’t the best memory,” recalled Higgins, who is a native of Smithtown, N.Y. “But when (the trade) happened I was absolutely thrilled. If there was one team I wanted to play for besides Montreal it would be the Rangers. To play in front of my family and friends is a dream come true for me.”

The 26-year-old Higgins is coming off an injury-plagued 2008-09 season, one in which groin and shoulder injuries limited him to only 57 games of action. He netted 12 goals and recorded 23 points before potting a pair of goals during the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Bruins.

However, Higgins was a 20-goal scorer in each of the three seasons prior to ’08-’09, pouring in a career-high 27 just two years ago. A force on the power play and also while playing shorthanded, Higgins had 12 power-play tallies in 2007-08, and has notched eight career shorthanded goals, including two last season.

“We think Higgins is a goal-scorer and we are very happy to have him,” said Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather. “He’s also from the New York area, and he’s excited to be coming home. We think he is a good player and that is why we made the deal.”

Higgins was selected from Yale University in the first round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, 14th overall, by the Canadiens, and has since played in 282 games for Montreal, scoring 84 goals and 151 points.

Prior to attending Yale, the Long Island-born Higgins attended Avon Old Farms High School in Connecticut, the same school former Rangers great Brian Leetch went to as a teenager.

“I grew up watching Brian Leetch a lot because he went to the same high school I did,” noted Higgins. “I was always rooting for him and hoping the best for him. It’s great to see him in the Hall of Fame now.”

Higgins said that coming off an injury-marred season and then being traded will provide quite a bit of motivation for him next season. And he also expressed excitement about getting the chance to play in John Tortorella’s aggressive offensive system, one that Higgins believes dovetails nicely with his own game.

“I like to be moving my feet the whole time I am out there for my shift,” said Higgins. “I pride myself on my work ethic. I think when I am working my hardest that’s when I am playing my best. I hope to bring that energy and that type of work ethic to each shift every night.”

Along with Higgins, the Rangers also added to their growing stable of talented young defensemen by acquiring the 20-year-old McDonagh and the 21 year-old Valentenko.

Like Higgins, McDonagh was also a first-round pick of the Canadiens, being selected 12th overall in 2007. The 6-foot-1, 212 pounder played at the University of Wisconsin last season and recorded 16 points (5-11-16) and 59 penalty minutes in 36 games.

Valentenko, a 2006 fifth-round pick by Montreal, split last season between the Canadiens’ minor league affiliate in Hamilton and Moscow Dynamo in the KHL.

Ryan McDonagh, a 2007 first-rounder, had three assists in six games for Team USA at the 2009 World Junior Championships.
“McDonagh is certainly a player that is going to play in the NHL, as well as Valentenko,” said Sather. “We got two good prospects in this deal.”

The Rangers not only added three good young players to their roster on Tuesday, the club also added more flexibility under the salary cap by trading Gomez, who struggled last season recording just 58 points, one year after putting up 70 in his first season on Broadway.

“It gives us a lot more options, more availability to do other things,” said Sather. “We’re not up against the (salary) cap now. We’ve got lots of cap room. It just makes the options more inviting to us now.”

Although pleased with the trade he made, Sather still had nothing but good things to say about Gomez, whom the Rangers signed to a free-agent contract back in the summer of 2007.

“I think Scott is a very good player, a real good guy who worked real hard and was exceptional with the team in the dressing room,” Sather said. “I have no complaints about him.”

This deal behind him, Sather can now turn his attention to the start of the National Hockey League’s free agency period, which officially gets underway at Noon ET on Wednesday.

Regardless of the free-agency picture, Sather is confident that Tuesday’s deal is an important part of the process of reshaping and retooling his team for the better come the 2009-10 campaign.

“You can’t stay pat with a hockey team,” Sather said. “I think you have to make a certain number of changes every year, and we decided this was the right change for us.”  
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