TARRYTOWN, NY - Usually hockey and heat don't go together, but that wasn't the case this past weekend. A hot and humid day couldn't keep the Ranger faithful away from the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown, New York as subscribers, Blueshirt Extra members and Youth Hockey clinic participants showed up on Saturday for some fun in the sun at the 2005 Rangers Summer Fan Fest.
The Fan Fest event had something for everybody, as all fans in attendance not only had a chance to meet and get autographs from Rangers from the past such as Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert, Stephane Matteau, Nick Fotiu, Glenn Anderson, Dave Maloney, Steve Vickers and Brian Mullen, they also had a chance to skate on the same ice surface where their beloved team practices.
"I really enjoyed this," Robert DeFina, a Rangers fan from Bergenfield, New Jersey, said. "It was a great experience from the autographs to seeing the other fans and talking to them about hockey again."
Fans also had a chance to hear about what's been going on with their current squad at the State-of-the-Team sessions with Rangers head coach Tom Renney. The Blueshirts' bench boss gave the fans a taste of what he and the organization have been up to since their last regular season game - a 3-2 win over the Capitals in Washington - on April 3, 2004.
"We've been paying a lot if attention to the other leagues," Renney said. "The American Hockey League for example and our Hartford franchise. The Wolf Pack had a terrific year and we were paying attention to all the players that were involved with that. Given the nature of what could be coming down the pike here in terms of free agency and what not, anybody playing at the pro level is important to watch. So the pro side of our operation was certainly paying attention to them and on the amateur side we had our scouts out watching probably close to 225 games each, so times 10, that was an awful lot of hockey.
"I think we have about 12,000 player reports in the bank right now for one season alone, which is not unusual for the amateur side. Other than that, we have certainly been paying attention to the community and the hockey fans in the New York area doing things like this and trying to stay in touch with the people that are really important to us."
Renney also gave the fans an inside look as to what the Rangers may do at their next draft. "I'd love to tell you that we'd take the best player available with our pick, but I wouldn't have a problem with a nice big center iceman that can move the puck to both sides and has got an ability to skate, play tough and be a little bit of a gritty guy. If it's not a centerman, maybe a winger --left side possibly. But having said that whenever this draft happens I could contradict myself totally and we take a great young defenseman. You sort of keep your eye on the best player, but in doing so you do also keep an eye on what your requirements are for your organization."
"The State-of-the-Rangers address was great because it kept us fans informed as to what the organization has been up to this past year with the lockout and all that stuff," DeFina added.
In addition to the autograph zone, open skating and the State-of-the-Team sessions, fans also had a chance to get their faces painted in their team colors or try their luck at the Toss and Win Prize zone. The Rangers also had photo op stations set up where fans could go have their picture taken with Gilbert and his retired #7 banner from the Garden rafters or with Matteau and Anderson and the 1994 Stanley Cup banner. The Rangers Zamboni was also on hand for all to see and have their picture taken with.
Fans of all ages also had the chance to pick up some first-hand pointers from Rangers alumni at stations like the slapshot booth and the street hockey clinic. Mullen put on four hockey clinics throughout the day, while former players like Fotiu helped the fans with their shots.
"My whole career as a Ranger I always had a great relationship with the fans, so to be able to come out today and meet some of them face-to-face was nice," Fotiu, the first New York native ever to play for the Rangers, said. "They've always been good to me, so the fanfest was a way for me to say thank you for cheering for me."
Fotiu, who grew up over the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island, wore the red, white and blue sweater twice in his career. While Fotiu is remembered by all Ranger fans for his hard-nosed style of play and bone-crunching checks, the home-grown winger is also remembered as the generous player who would always toss them pucks after the Rangers warmed up before games.
"To this day I still get fans coming up to me and saying they still have the pucks I threw to them during warm-ups and that makes me feel great," Fotiu said. "I was in their shoes once before as a fan seating way up in the blue seats before I became a player and I never got a puck as a fan. So to be able to make them happy was great. They know I never did it as a sideshow. I always did it from my heart and to make them smile."
Despite a slightly early exit due to passing thunderstorms, it's safe to say that a lot of Ranger fans were smiling on Saturday at the 2005 Summer Fan Fest.