Every player who has donned a Rangers jersey in the team’s 76-year history would share the same sentiment about playing hockey at Madison Square Garden ... it’s a special place to play. One quick glance around The World’s Most Famous Arena is enough to make Andreas Johansson (right) and Zdeno Ciger remember why they returned to the NHL this season after time spent in Europe.
Originally from Hofors, Sweden, Johansson spent last season playing for SC Bern of the Swiss National League, registering 15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points in 40 games. Prior to 2000-01, the aggressive forward spent time with five different NHL clubs in a span of five seasons, and needed some time to reflect on his career. "When I decided to go back to Europe, it was around Christmas time and I was playing in Calgary. I had a few injuries and I moved around to a few different teams in a short amount of time. I felt I needed some kind of a break,” said Johansson. “When I moved back to Europe I didn’t think I would come back to the NHL.”
That changed when he was picked up by the Rangers in the 2000 NHL Waiver Draft. Johansson regarded it as an opportunity to improve his game. “As soon as the Rangers picked me up off waivers, I was really motivated to have a great season in Europe and come to New York,” he said. With the prospect of playing for the Rangers in the back of his mind, Johansson focused on keeping his game sharp.
Johansson is excited about his new start in the Big Apple and his play is proof that the time away was worth it. After 15 games this season, the 6-0, 200-pound Swede is tied for third on the club with four goals and has seen time on both the power play and penalty killing units of late. Equally adept at playing on the wing or at center, Johansson provides depth and versatility to the New York lineup. “For me, it’s a fresh start to come back again. I played a season in Europe to regroup and I’m excited about being with the Rangers.”
Left winger Zdeno Ciger is another European forward who was added to the Blueshirt mix in the off-season. Ciger hails from Martin, Slovakia where he has spent the past five seasons playing in the Slovak Republic Extraleague after playing the previous six years in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers.
Although leaving the NHL after the 1995-96 season was not an easy decision for Ciger, he made the best of his situation by enhancing his level of play. Last season he tallied 17 goals and 32 assist for 49 points, placing him fifth on the team and 15th in the league. In 225 matches with HC Slovan Bratislava over the past five campaigns, Ciger recorded 106 goals and 161 assists for 267 points, along with 248 penalty minutes.
“Most of the world’s top players are in the NHL and after some time away, I wanted to experience the NHL game again,” said Ciger, who used that philosophy as a motivational factor during his time spent in Europe. “I like the hockey better here in the NHL. It’s much more exciting to be a part of.”
After five seasons in Europe, Ciger is excited to be a part of the Rangers organization this season. The winger has made an impact in the Blueshirt offense, collecting nine points (three goals, six assists) in his first 15 games. “I feel really good now and I’m enjoying myself here in New York. I’m just going to work as hard as I can to try to help this team make the playoffs. That is our goal here.”