On February 25, the seven Rangers who participated in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City will gather at Rye Playland as they prepare to host the New Jersey Devils the following night, their first of 23 remaining games in the 2001-02 regular season. They will share Olympic stories and compare Salt Lake City experiences. But for the next 10 days, their allegiance to one another will be traded in for a national sweater and the pride of their home countries.
Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Mike York, Theoren Fleury, Eric Lindros, Vladimir Malakhov and Radek Dvorak all have the same goal. Who will achieve that goal remains to be seen. But what will be seen by millions of hockey fans around the world is perhaps the greatest international hockey competition ever assembled on ice.
"I love to play hockey, but the Olympics are something that are real important to me," said Lindros. "Every (Canadian kid) dreams first of playing in the NHL someday. And from there ... you dream a little more and hope to play in the Olympics."
Richter, who will be making his third Olympic appearance, views this as a special platform for Team USA to represent a nation that has gone through a great deal in the last five months.
"We have intense pride, both national pride and in U.S. hockey. Patriotism? Of course. We have tremendous pride in our country and being on home soil will reinforce everything we feel about our flag and ourselves. But we also want to represent ourselves well as a team. We're representing American hockey. We've been through a lot together. Most of us aren't going to get another chance."
"If we play and perform to our capabilities, we have as good a shot as anyone to come away with a gold medal," said Leetch, who has teamed with Richter at all three Olympics.
Dvorak will be making his Olympic debut in Salt Lake City. "I've played in some international events before, but this will be my first Olympics. It's nice to represent the Czech Republic. It should be fun. I know we are the defending gold medalists, so there will be pressure on us to win. It's going to be a very competitive tournament and to win a medal will be an honor."
The next 10 days should prove to be very interesting.