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Holiday gifts were a thrill for young Rangers

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

As adults, they live in the spotlight that comes with being professional hockey players, but it wasn't so long ago that the Blueshirts were kids themselves. And the holidays were just as exciting back then as they are for youngsters today.

Petr Prucha, now 24, says he'll never forget the Christmas he celebrated as a 10-year-old, when his dreams came true with the gift ofa motorized car.

"It was awesome," Prucha said. "I would run that car into everything, and it was so much fun! I can't imagine anyone getting a better gift. I miss it!"

Rangers defenseman Aaron Ward also understands what a mechanical toy can mean to a young boy. Later in life, Ward would experience the ultimate thrill of winning the Stanley Cup - three times. But a much earlier memory is one he also cherishes - the thrill of receiving his first train set for Christmas.

"I opened up this box and there were all these trains in it," said Ward. "Then when I got downstairs, my dad had set up this big board and put the tracks on it. He set up a little town too!"

The ultimate mechanical "toy" gift went to Blair Betts, whose parents gave him a new car in the Christmas after he got his driver's license. In most cases, however, the price of a gift wasn't what made it memorable.

Forward Jason Ward said his biggest gift as a kid was the bike he received as an 8-year-old, but when asked which present meant the most, Ward pointed to something far less expensive - a small stuffed animal he'd find every year in his stocking.

"Getting that stuffed animal meant more to me every year than any gift," he said.

Indeed, some of the least expensive gifts made the biggest impression on the young Rangers. Defenseman Fedor Tyutin, for example, grew up in Russia wanting only one thing for Christmas - candy.

"Nothing is better than candy!" said the 23-year old defenseman, recalling his mindset as a boy.

Many other Rangers players said that even as kids, their gifts revolved around their budding hockey careers. As children, hockey equipment was the most common discovery under the tree.

"I received my first set of goalie pads when I was about eight," said Henrik Lundqvist, who obviously put the pads to good use. "It was a big moment for me."

California native Ryan Hollweg also remembers his first hockey-related gift -- his first pair of inline skates, which were much more practical in Southern California than traditional ice skates.

Brendan Shanahan remembers receiving a hockey net when he was 10, which was much better than a certain gift he'd received a few years before.

"I asked my parents for an Evel Knievel doll, and they bought me a Dangerous Debbie, which I guess was the female equivalent of Evel Knievel," said the seven-time All-Star winger. "I don't know why they got me that, but maybe the stores were all out of Evel Knievels."

Goaltender Kevin Weekes claims he was never given a bad gift on Christmas.

"I am kind of a nerd, so I always liked clothes," he said. "But the best was one of those table hockey games. I got a new one every year because I always wore the plastic men out into nothing."

While his players were quick to single out gifts they loved, Rangers head coach Tom Renney's thoughts go back to the most bizarre gift he repeatedly received as a kid.

"My uncle Tom always gave me three cans of beans," Renney said. "I don't know why, maybe because I love beans. I don't know why he always gave me three, though."
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