As a child in Kalamazoo, Mich., Adam Hall admits he had a hard time watching NHL games on TV.
It's not that he didn't like the sport. In fact, he loved it. And it's not that he didn't like the NHL, because he loved that, too.
The problem for young Hall was that every time he saw the world's greatest players on the world's biggest stage, he was instantly moved to grab a hockey stick, run out to his driveway and try to imitate what he was watching. In Hall's mind, hockey just wasn't hockey unless he was somehow involved in it.
"I couldn't stand to watch any sports on TV, because it would get me so excited," said Hall, now 26 and entering his first season with the Rangers. "I'd just be running outside to play those sports with my friends. I pretty much couldn't sit still enough to watch a whole game on TV. You'd see these guys on the highlights making a great play or scoring a goal, and then you'd be out on your driveway that night trying to do the exact same thing."
All those hours away from the television set certainly paid off for Hall. By age 17, the kid from the driveway had grown up to become one of the first players invited to the U.S. National Development Team Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. One year later, he earned a scholarship to Michigan State University, where he starred for four seasons -- the last as team captain -- before turning pro with the Nashville Predators, who had drafted him 52nd overall following his freshman season at MSU.
Hall, a right wing, was part of the Predators organization for four years from 2002 to 2006. In 2002-03, he quickly established himself as one of the league's top young players, when he led all NHL rookies with eight power-play goals. He also ranked fifth overall among rookies with 16 goals that season.
By last season, Hall was at the top of his game. He had spent the 2004-05 NHL lockout year in Finland, helping lead his KalPa Kuopio team to a league title with 23 goals in 36 games. With increased confidence in his scoring ability, Hall returned to Nashville in 2005 and went on to register a career-highs in points (29), assists (15), and power-play goals (10). Early last summer, as he prepared for a fifth full season with the Predators, the 6-foot-3, 208 pound Hall appeared to be on the verge of big things.
"I really enjoyed my time in Nashville. They have great fans there, and hockey has come a long way since the team first moved there," said Hall, who was part of the Predators' second draft class. "The fans have really become a lot more knowledgeable about the game. I think it's like anywhere else. When you put a good team on the ice, the fans love to show up and cheer them on."
On July 19, Hall's career took a turn when he was dealt to the Rangers in exchange for Dominic Moore. The trade came as a surprise to Hall, but he immediately recognized that it presented a unique opportunity.
"I was just really excited to suddenly be a part of the Rangers organization," he said. "There's so much history, tradition, and expectation of success here. There's a pressure to win that's going to be a lot of fun to experience and to be around this type of environment."
In his first two preseason games, Hall demonstrated his offensive skill. Playing on a line with Blair Betts and Marcel Hossa in New Jersey on Sept. 19, he assisted on the opening goal by Betts and then tallied one of his own, when he alertly threw the puck at Martin Brodeur, catching the All-Star goaltender off-guard.
Four nights later in Puerto Rico, Hall took the ice for the second time donning a Rangers uniform --again with Betts as his center. The line's left wing that night was Nigel Dawes, who ended up scoring the game-winner against Florida.
After playing both of his preseason games on the road, Hall is still looking forward to hitting the ice at Madison Square Garden for the first time in blue, which will happen tonight when the Rangers host the Boston Bruins. As a visiting opponent, he got a sense of what it means to play at the Garden, and he knows he's in for a treat.
"You come into that building, and there's this atmosphere and aura surrounding it," he said. "You come in there and you know you're in Madison Square Garden and this is New York. It's kind of an intimidating atmosphere, but it's one that's fun to play in."
Hall isn't just a new face for the fans at MSG. When training camp opened earlier this month, he was a new face to many of his teammates. When he arrived at the Madison Square Garden Training Center, Hall knew only two people from his past. One was Matt Cullen, a teammate on the 2004 U.S. squad at the World Championships in the Czech Republic. The other familiar face belonged to Massage Therapist/Assistant Trainer Bruce Lifrieri, whom Hall knew through a longtime shared association with Team USA.
"My new teammates are all players I have played against, but I pretty much had to start out from scratch as far as meeting people," said Hall. "Everybody here has been great from the moment I walked in the door. Everybody's really easy-going and helping me to make an easy transition."
One other Rangers teammate Hall immediately recognized was Jed Ortmeyer, a bitter rival during their college years, when Hall was at Michigan State and Ortmeyer was at the University of Michigan.
"I played against Jed for three years, and we had some pretty good battles," said Hall. "There were a couple of times I beat him out for a championship and a couple of times he beat me out. I know we both have great memories of playing against each other."
Like Ortmeyer, who comes from Nebraska, Hall emerged from an area of the U.S. that has not produced very many NHL players. Although the state of Michigan is a pipeline to the NHL for many kids, most of that talent comes from the Detroit area. Hall, however, grew up on the state's western edge, living closer to Chicago than Detroit. College and minor-league hockey were in many ways his biggest inspirations.
"The Kalamazoo Wings were there in the IHL when I was growing up, so it was great to have that kind of atmosphere," said Hall. "When I was young, I remember running around Wings Stadium selling programs, and I grew up playing minor hockey there, too."
Hall credits his home state's overall a passion for hockey in Michigan as the reason even players from less populated areas are quick to embrace the game. But he also knows that when it comes to passion, few places rival his new hockey home, and it's one reason he's so fired up about being in the Big Apple.
"When people all over the world think of the U.S., there's one city they think of, and that's New York City," said Hall. "It goes beyond just hockey, and to put on that New York jersey is something very special."