The Rangersa annual Blueshirts Off Our Backs on-ice ceremony following New York's 7-2 loss to Toronto last night closed the 2001-02 home schedule at Madison Square Garden. But what this post-game ceremony meant to a team, a family and a city ran much deeper than in years past.
Captain Mark Messier
, who began the season by donning fallen FDNY Chief of Special Operations Ray Downey's
helmet in a moving pre-game ceremony on opening night, brought things full circle as he presented Rosalie Downey and her family with the Blueshirt off his back to close the night.
Ray Downey was a hockey fan, a charter member and captain of the Fire Department team and a proud Rangers fan. At age 60, he continued to play in a 40-and-over league and truly enjoyed lacing up his skates every week.
"He was all hockey," Ray Philips of FDNY's Special Operations Unit recently told the New York Daily News
. "He'd put his feet up and just talk hockey."
With Rangers Training Camp set to begin for the first time at Madison Square Garden, the city of New York and the country as a whole was dealt a blow with the events of September 11th. When the World Trade Center's north tower collapsed on that fateful morning, New York truly lost a hero. A hero to his family. A hero to his brothers in the Department and a hero to the city which he loved.
As Messier and the Rangers honored the Downey Family last night, Downey's two sons, also New York City Firefighters, were unable to make it to MSG. Joe and Chuck Downey were at Ground Zero, digging in the very spot where their father was thought to have been at the time of the collapse. Ray was one of 343 firemen killed on that horrific morning.
Rosalie Downey has never been a big hockey fan. And maybe she'll never be. Her late husband's passion for the Rangers and for hockey was reason enough to be there last night. For a family, the pain of their loss will never fade. But for one night in New York, the sport of hockey provided just another way to mourn a fallen hero.RELATED LINKS:Chief and the Captain - Hero Still in Rangers Hearts
- New York Daily News (4/11/2002)