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Road to Rangers starts at Traverse City

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Traverse City Deserving of Spotlight

2011 Rangers Traverse City Roster
'20 Prospects' Series (Includes 12 Team Members)

By Dan David,

When the hope of the Garden Faithful is again realized, and they are treated to sight of Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal, Artem Anisimov and Michael Sauer raising the Stanley Cup at some point over the next few years, it will not be the first time theis group of players celebrated a championship together as Rangers.

That original triumphant moment will always belong to the year 2007, when these four current members of the Rangers ever-widening "young core" played on a 22-player team of Blueshirts prospects that won the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament. The Rangers hopefuls of that year, nine of whom have gone on to play in at least one NHL game since their trip to Michigan, ran the table in Traverse City, beating Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Detroit, and Columbus.

That banner achievement will always be remembered at Traverse City. If you go to the David's Rink side of the Centre Ice Arena where the Red Wings conduct their annual training camp, you can see the banner saluting Dubinsky, Staal, Anisimov, Sauer and the others, who were all relatively unknown in NHL circles at the time they celebrated victory.

Current Rangers forward Artem Anisimov was on a championship team at Traverse City in 2007 and served as alternate captain of the 2008 team. He posted four goals and four assists in eight career games at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
The Rangers return Traverse City for the sixth consecutive year next month. The Sept. 10-14 tournament will be of special interest to fans since MSG will broadcast all four Blueshirts games live --- allowing its viewers to share in a truly exciting moment for youngsters they will one day cheer for at the NHL level. In some cases -- such as Derek Stepan last year -- the wait to see the Traverse City players at Madison Square Garden won't be long at all.

Including the 24 on on this year's Traverse City roster, a total of 105 prospects will have worn the red, white, and blue at this tournament since the Rangers joined the event in 2006. Twenty-two past Rangers representatives have already played in the NHL, and seven were full-time members of last season's Blueshirts. In addition to the four champions from 2007, Ryan Callahan (2006), Ryan McDonagh (2010) and Stepan also played at Traverse City.

In three of the past four years, at least one member of the Traverse City team has gone from participating in the tournament to earning a full-time spot on the NHL roster out of training camp just a few weeks later. The first two to do it were Dubinsky and Staal in 2007, followed by Michael Del Zotto in 2009 and Stepan in 2010.

It's particularly fitting that Dubinsky, Staal, and Sauer were on a Traverse City championshp team, since the draft picks used to select them came from the same organizational philosophy that led the Rangers to enter the tournament field.

Between March 1, 2004, and the start of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Blueshirts made a series of trades that enabled them to stockpile draft picks -- as well as move up in the draft -- to form what became the team's ongoing youth movement. Dubinsky, Staal, and Sauer were just three of those players whose rights the Rangers obtained because they had traded for the opportunity to draft them.

For the first time in Traverse City Prospects Tournament history, MSG will provide live broadcasts of all four Blueshirts games. Here is a look at the schedule:

• Sept. 10 -- vs. St. Louis at 7 p.m.
• Sept. 11 -- vs. Dallas at 6 p.m.
• Sept. 13 -- vs. Carolina, 3:30 p.m.
• Sept. 14 -- Placement Game, TBD
The flurry of trades in 2004 and 2005 resulted in 22 total draft picks in those two years. By 2006, the big influx of prospects, combined with several players, already in the system gave the organization a deep enough pipeline to enter one of the league's handful of preseason prospect tournaments. It was excellent timing for the Blueshirts, who had not participated in a preseason tournament since 2001, because Traverse City was in the process of widening its field from six to eight teams.

Detroit added the Rangers to their annual event, and five years later, Traverse City has become a very big part of the Rangers' player-development culture. Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather joins his entire front-office staff, including all executives and scouts, at Traverse City in the first opportunity to see many top prospects compete in an NHL-style environment. At the same time, these players get a taste of what it's like to travel with the Rangers and wear a Rangers uniform in competition against other NHL prospects.

You know you're in Traverse City in September when you can look around the stands at either one of the two rather intimate practice rinks and see some of the biggest names in hockey watching the next generation of NHLers. Among the attendees at games last year were Hall of Famers Mark Messier with the Rangers contingent, Steve Yzerman with the Tampa Bay group, and Joe Nieuwendyk with Dallas.

Traverse City is also a tremendous opportunity for future Rangers teammates to begin bonding as they share such an important experience so early in their careers. For years to come, each of the current Rangers who has played in the tournament can look around their NHL locker room and see others who were right there with him in Michigan, when the Rangers' parent team still seemed far away.

This banner on the David's Rink side of the Centre Ice Arena at Traverse City, Mich., commemorates the Rangers' 4-0-0 run to the championship during the 2007 NHL prospects tournament held there.
"You're with each other all the time at practice," Staal, now an NHL All-Star, recalled as he looked back on his two trips to Traverse City. "You do all your pregame meals and you're in the same rooms. It's not a big group of guys, so it's like having your own team for those few days."

Traverse City has been particularly good for helping develop Rangers defensemen, including Staal, Sauer, McDonagh, and Del Zotto.

One strong candidate to follow in that tradition this year is Tim Erixon. Born in Westchester County and the son of former fan favorite Jan Erixon, Tim is a 2009 NHL first-round draft pick who was traded to the Blueshirts on June 1. His extensive experience playing against men in the Swedish Elitserien should make the adjustment to Traverse City that much easier for him.

Confidence can be the key to a breakout performance at Traverse City, and a big showing at the tournament can go a long way toward one day becoming a full-time Blueshirt. Dubinsky, who had two strong showings at the prospects event, remains the Rangers' all-time scoring leader there with 12 points in eight games. Stepan erupted for four points in his Traverse City debut and never looked back in setting the team's single-tournament scoring records of six assists and eight points a year ago.

In addition to the 2007 title run, the Rangers finished third overall with a 3-1 record at Traverse City in 2009, fourth overall in 2006, fifth overall in 2010, and sixth overall in 2008. Blueshirts teams have gone 12-8-0 in their 20 games at the tournament for the most total wins among all participating teams over the past five years.
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