Oct. 31 will mark the premiere of what promises to be one of the landmark programs in MSG Network's 37-year history -- "The 50 Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden." This new, weekly show will highlight the most spectacular events that have taken place at the The Garden, including many involving the New York Rangers.
To help kick off the documentary, MSG Network took over Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 23 for its "MSG 50 Highlight Festival." Rangers legend Adam Graves
and current team member Jed Ortmeyer were both part of this special event along with former Knicks star John Starks, Liberty great Teresa Weatherspoon, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Knicks City Dancers, and many others who have shared in the Garden's rich history.
Graves, who remains part of the Rangers through his work with prospects and community efforts, was interviewed on the festival's main stage and later signed autographs for hundreds of fans. Since the theme of the day was great moments, he was naturally eager to share his top memories of MSG.
"My top five moments, numbers one through five, are all June 14, 1994," Graves said of the night the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. "That is every moment, right there, that's all of them! But to be honest, certainly that entire day, coming out for warm-ups and the entire Garden being full chanting "We want the Cup," that's one, lining up for the opening draw, that's two, Sinatra singing, 'New York, New York,] that's three right there. The hair on the back of your neck was standing up with the electricity in the building."
While nothing can touch June 14, 1994, for sheer excitement, Graves' Garden memories go beyond the 1994 championship -- encompassing many other Rangers moments.
"There were certainly a lot of other moments that year (1993-94)," Graves said. "The All-Star Game was played in the Garden that year, and being a part of that. And all the milestones I was fortunate to be a part of, like (Mark) Messier's 500th goal, Mike Gartner's 600th goal. There's a lot of moments and different accomplishments from different guys. Skating alongside Messier, (Mike) Richter, and (Brian) Leetch was a special opportunity and a privilege."
As a Rangers player from 1991 to 2000, Graves said he attended many other events at MSG.
"Madison Square Garden has a special place in my heart, and my family's heart," Graves said. "There are a lot of great memories there. It's a home away from home. It's the people that make it what it is it's the people, that's what's special. It's those bonds that I have been so fortunate enough to make over the years. That's what special to me at The Garden. It's those familiar faces and people that are a huge part of the history of that building and everything that New York represents."
Ortmeyer, who joined the Rangers three years ago, hasn't played at The Garden as long as Graves did, but he already has many memories to cherish.
"The highlight would have to be my first game, my first true experience of The Garden," he said. "I got to play on a line with Messier for about two or three months, so that was very memorable, of course. Messier Night was really nice and special too, and I was fortunate enough to be there when they retired Richter's number, too, so it was a pretty special night and one that I will always remember."
Monday's day-long event at Grand Central featured various interactive games and activities, ranging from a slapshot hockey booth (where Ortmeyer went head-to-head with fans) to lifelike wax figures of Elton John and Marilyn Monroe, on loan from Madame Tussauds New York. Another focal point was a live broadcast by 1050 ESPN Radio's Steven A. Smith.
Few people have been around The Garden as long as MSG's official photographer, George Kalinsky, who was there when the current building opened in 1968. Over the past 40 years, Kalinsky's subjects have included Pope John Paul II, Muhammad Ali and Bill Clinton. Nevertheless, Kalinsky said many of his best memories revolve around the Blueshirts.
"One of the great moments, whether it's the Rangers or Madison Square Garden in general, was when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994," said Kalinsky. "For me to be there and witness the celebration, especially the charisma of Mark Messier holding up the Cup, was an absolute privilege. Seeing them raise the cup was certainly another one of the greatest moments of Stanley Cup history.
"I also enjoyed 1979, when John Davidson almost single-handedly beat the Islanders and brought them to the Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. Watching the Rangers bench jump off the bench after beating the Islanders -- with Nick Fotiu jumping in street clothes -- was also part of what made that a great moment. You put all these moments together and its such a great privilege to be part of such a tradition."
Then, of course, there are always the fans. Thousands of them came through the highlight festival on Monday, and they were all eager to share their fondest hockey memories from MSG. Here are just a few:
"My favorite was Mark Messier Night. It was very well done, and I liked the way they did it."-- Cara Davidson, age 24
" My favorite Garden memory is definitely when they raised Mike Richter's banner. He is definitely my favorite player, and I cried, of course."-- Kelly Davidson, 21
"Apart from the 1994 cup win, I saw Pete Stemkowski's goal in triple overtime (in 1971). That was awesome! That was an awesome one and spectacular night!"-- Peter Bockman, 58
"My best Rangers memory at the Garden was with my dad in the playoffs. It was the (1997) game where Esa Tikkanen had a goal in overtime against the Panthers,where he knew he scored and no one else did. The coolest part was that he went to Richter, and had his arm around him ready to celebrate as they reviewed the goal."-- Joshua Berger, 22
"My favorite memory was when Jed Ortmeyer scored in the playoffs last year."-- Laura Mindlin, 13
"My favorite memory is October 15, 2005 when Henrik (Lundqvist) had a 5-1 win over the Thrashers."-- Diana Siciliano, 22
"1994! I have been to many games, both in the old Garden and this one, but the best moment was watching them skate around the ice with the Cup on TV. My family and I chanted "1994" all night.-- David Fintz, 69
"Hands down, Marek Malik's shootout goal. It wasn't the best game I was ever at up to that point, but those 15 rounds were the craziest sports moment I have ever witnessed. And then for it to end like that, going between his legs, it was absolutely ridiculous."-- Brad Seader , 23
" Even though they got eliminated from the playoffs last year, seeing all the fans cheer them on and the team raise their sticks on the ice, that's really what it means to be a Rangers fan. That was my favorite moment."-- Anthony Cona, 30
"I was only nine at the time, but watching (Stephane) Matteau send us to the Cup Finals was unbelievable. The fact he did it against Brodeur and the Devils makes it even better!"-- Scott Kramer, 22
Several of these moments will be part of the new MSG Network program, which will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m., beginning next week. Much of the footage included in the documentary has never been aired before. For more information on this milestone television event, visit the "MSG 50" official web site at http://www.msg50.com