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Matteau's moment one of Blueshirts' best ever

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
You know a sports moment is truly great when the radio or television announcer's call is all it takes to be forever reminded of its significance.


Only an elite group of calls gain such status. We're talking about gems like:

The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant
Down Goes Frazier!
Havlicek Steals the Ball!
Do You Believe in Miracles? ... Yes!


They're the kind of calls that still fire up fans -- even fans too young to remember the actual moments involved.

One such audio classic goes something like this:

Matteau, Matteau, Matteau!

That call was made by former radio play-by-play man Howie Rose on May 27, 1994, after left wing Stephane Matteau scored at 4:24 of the second overtime, lifting the Blueshirts past New Jersey in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Rose's oft-replayed call and the unforgettable goal that sent the Rangers into the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals have forever tied Matteau to Rangers history. It's quite an honor for a player whose stay in New York was relatively brief, lasting 85 games over two and a half seasons.

To say Matteau was an unlikely hero in 1994 would be an understatement. He had joined the team only two months earlier in a March 21 deal that sent Tony Amonte to Chicago for Matteau and Brian Noonan. When he arrived in New York that spring, Matteau figured he was little more than an insurance policy for a first-place team already dominating the Eastern Conference.

"I got there late in the season with only 13 games to go," Matteau remembered. "I thought they had traded for me to be a safety factor in case somebody got hurt in the playoffs. I didn't think I was going to play much."

Rangers head coach Mike Keenan, who also coached Matteau with the Blackhawks, had big plans for the young winger, and the 24-year-old responded with seven points in the final 12 regular-season games. In his first game with the team on March 22, 1994, Matteau scored a game-tying goal with 14 seconds left at Calgary. It was just a preview of things to come.

"That was a nice surprise when they put me with (Alexei) Kovalev and (Steve) Larmer," Matteau said. "We played a lot of minutes, because the top three lines were all playing a lot of minutes."

Playing with Kovalev and Larmer, Matteau really raised his game in the 1994 playoffs as he recorded six goals and three assists in the 23-game postseason march to the team's first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Two of those goals were scored in double overtime of the Conference Finals against New Jersey -- the dramatic Game 7 winner and a Game 3 goal a 6:13 that gave the Blueshirts a 2-1 series lead on the road.

"Winning the Stanley Cup totally ranks as the No. 1 moment in my career, and definitely helping the New York Rangers win against New Jersey ranks as one of the other top moments," Matteau says today, looking back on those magical weeks a dozen years ago.

Although he played such a key role in ending the Rangers' long championship drought, Matteau did not fully appreciate what the achievement meant to New Yorkers until days, weeks and even months after he had hoisted the Cup.

"I was a Montreal Canadiens fans growing up, just like most people in Quebec," said Matteau, a native of Rouyn-Noranda. "So I never realized the pain of these fans. But when I played for the Blackhawks, I realized their fans' pain, because they hadn't won in many years also. But I got in here so late, and by then nobody wanted to curse the team, I guess. The local reporters and fans didn't want to talk about the 54 years except when we played the Islanders in the first round."

Even if the opportunity to make history had been the talk of the town from the moment he arrived, Matteau doesn't think it would have distracted the Blueshirts.

"The Rangers had already had such a good season that year, and all we talked about as a team was winning the Stanley Cup," he said. "Mike Keenan and Mark Messier did a good job by keeping our focus straight and letting us know that we would only celebrate afterwards."

To this day, Matteau can't say enough good things about the chemistry of the 1993-94 Rangers -- a team unlike any of the five other franchises he played for during his 12 years in the NHL.

"The Rangers did it the right way in 1994," he said. "They gave up a lot of prospects, but they invested in a lot of the guys from Edmonton who had won four or five Stanley Cups on their own before. And when things started to get rough, all the Oilers guys got up -- Messier, (Kevin) Lowe, (Craig) MacTavish, (Jeff) Beukeboom and others. From a leadership point of view, we had it all."

As one of several players who joined the Rangers at or near the trade deadline, Matteau found himself in an unfamiliar locker room. Only Keenan's presence there gave him any sense of what to expect.

"It really helped," Matteau said of having Keenan as coach. "We (Chicago) went to the Stanley Cup Finals with him two years before, so he knew what type of player that I was, even though I didn't know too many other guys on that team. I only knew Steve Larmer and Brian Noonan. But when you're on a hockey team and you start winning, it doesn't matter. We were really just a bunch of kids who wanted to play, so it was very easy to adjust."

An even greater shock in becoming a Ranger overnight was performing for the same fans who used to intimidate him as a visiting player. Matteau said the fact that home base was Madison Square Garden made the run to his only Stanley Cup championship even more memorable.

"Before I played for the Rangers, I was just another guy who would come to the Garden scared," Matteau recalled. "I was in awe of MSG. I was very impressed. And then when I started playing for the Rangers it was amazing to be part of it."

After the Stanley Cup championship, Matteau remained with the Rangers for the lockout-shortened 1995 season and was eventually traded to St. Louis for Ian Laperriere near the midpoint of the 1995-96 campaign. It was no coincidence that the coach who brought him to St. Louis was Mike Keenan.

As exciting as it had been to play for the Rangers, Matteau said it was just as difficult to play against them at The Garden for the first time after being traded to the Blues. That first meeting came on Jan. 14, 1996, and Matteau says only one word can describe how he felt that day: "weird." Nevertheless, he turned in a huge performance that night, scoring once and assisting on two other goals to give the Blues a 3-3 tie.

Matteau left St. Louis for a five year run with San Jose from 1998 to 2002, but Keenan would figure in his career once more. In 2002 at age 32, Matteau became an unrestricted free agent, and Keenan brought Matteau to Florida for what would end up being his final NHL season.

Following his retirement, Matteau moved his family to Ottawa, where they spent the next two years before shifting to Montreal.

"We sold our house in Florida right away and we wanted to move back to Canada as soon as possible," Matteau recalled. "We moved to Ottawa, because our kids were born in the States and we could not send them to an English school in Montreal. Last year we moved to Montreal, finally, and the kids are going to an English school there."


Matteau is now the proud owner of a travel agency in Quebec.
Since moving to Montreal, Matteau has returned to the ice to play in numerous charitable games with the Montreal Canadiens Alumni Team.

"I'm completely out of hockey, except I do play about 25 games a year with Guy Lafleur and the Canadiens Alumni, mostly traveling around Quebec," said Matteau. "It's called a Legends team. You don't have to be someone who played for the Canadiens, but I think all of the guys on the team are former Canadiens players except me."

Matteau is also an outstanding golfer. He consistently dominates the field at Rangers golf outings but says the links aren't where his professional future lies. Instead, he is focused on the travel agency he now owns in his northern Quebec hometown. Just two weeks shy of his 37th birthday, Matteau has found a new source of pride in this travel business -- a perfect second career for a man who saw action in such a wide variety of cities during his playing days.

He retired from pro hockey in 2002 having played 848 career regular-season and 109 playoff games. Although he never scored more than 16 goals or 36 points in an NHL season, his efforts during the last two weeks of May 1994, have ensured that the man simply referred to as "Matteau, Matteau, Matteau" will forever be remembered by the hockey fans of New York.
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