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Trip did wonders for Rangers' chemistry

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers Discuss European Experience Watch

By Jim Cerny,

A bit jet-lagged after Sunday’s flight home from Prague, Czech Republic, Rangers head coach Tom Renney and his troops were back at the MSG Training Center in Westchester on Tuesday to prepare themselves for the next 80 regular season games ahead on the club’s schedule.

Chris Drury said that during the European trip he was wondering who would be the new Rangers captain right up until the team dinner when he learned it was him.
“The big thing is to get outside, get in the daylight, get your body clock turned around to where we are now in the Eastern Time Zone, and make it as regular a day as you possibly can,” Renney explained to his players. “Wednesday we’ll be back on the ice getting ready for our home opener against Chicago and trying to pay attention to what 29 other teams are doing to secure themselves a playoff spot.”

Not that Renney did not take fond memories with him from the Rangers’ week-long trek to Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but he realizes that it is his job to make sure the players are focused on the task at hand.

To that end, after a day off on Monday, the players took part in off-ice workouts on Tuesday, and will have a pair of on-ice practices over the next two days, before skating in their home debut at MSG on Friday night.

“The trip was an awesome experience,” noted alternate captain Scott Gomez. “But it’s great to be back home; and now it’s time to start getting ready for the rest of the season.”

As far as being tired or jet-lagged, Renney admitted to being a bit of both, though Gomez stated emphatically that the Rangers will not use that as an excuse in coming days and games.

“You can’t use any of that as a distraction because it’s all in the mind,” said Gomez. “To use that as an excuse is just being mentally weak. Other teams have used that as an excuse for getting off to a slow start, but that’s not going to be the case here.”

By all accounts, the Rangers trip to, Bern, Switzerland, and then to Prague was a complete success in every imaginable area. From team bonding, to quality practice time, to a dramatic come-from-behind victory in winning the Victoria Cup, to a pair of regular-season wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Rangers’ European experience was nothing but a positive one.

For a team that is carrying eight new faces on the roster, the trip was very meaningful in that the players were able to get to spend much quality time together, on and off the ice, while sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We thought the trip would help us that way, what with all the new guys we have on the roster,” said Renney. “You’re over there together, and really have no one else to turn to but your teammates, so it worked out really well, quite honestly.”

Added Gomez, “With all the new faces, it’s so important to get to know one another. And sometimes it’s harder to do that at home because guys have their families and all of that. But on the trip, you were able to really meet someone, get to know them, get to know about their background and their family. So it was real important, and it was fun.”

Put in its simplest terms, backup goaltender Stephen Valiquette said, “The trip was awesome! Absolutely everything about it was great.”

Of course there were four very important regular-season points to be had in back-to-back weekend games against the Lightning in Prague, and the Rangers secured all four with a pair of 2-1 victories. And from coach Renney on down the line, that was considered to be the biggest success of the trip.

“It was a lot of fun, and a great experience to go over there,” noted goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed just two goals in 120 minutes of action against the Lightning. “But I told some guys over there that it all starts with winning. When you go on a trip like that and you win it’s so much more fun, and you can enjoy the experience a whole lot more.”

Renney was also pleased to see many of the club’s new additions fit right in on the ice and make immediate contributions.

Veteran winger Markus Naslund scored the team’s first goal of the season in his Rangers’ debut on Saturday, and also assisted on Wade Redden’s game-tying goal Sunday. Redden, like Nalsund a free agent pick-up this past off-season, had a goal and an assist in Sunday’s match. Winger Aaron Voros, who played for Minnesota last season, earned the primary assist on Gomez’s game-winning goal Sunday, and also engaged Tampa’s Ryan Malone in a fight, much to the delight of his new Rangers teammates.

“You never know what you’ve got from the new guys until you are in the heat of the battle,” said Renney. “Guys stepped up for us all over the place, new and old. But what I really liked most of all is that as a team we really seemed to have that common front to tackle each and every period we played with that singleness of purpose, which is what you have to have in a team game. And at the same time, we had some real neat individual performances.”

It surely had to be a memorable trip for Chris Drury, as well, as the 32 year-old forward was named the 25th captain in franchise history at a team meal on Friday in Prague. It was a moment that Renney referred to as “one of the real highlights of the trip.”

Drury admitted that he was very curious beforehand to see whom Renney would select as team captain.

“As a leader, prior to a letter, I was just interested to see how it would turn out,” said Drury. “And I was very honored, of course, to be chosen. So that really added to the trip, which couldn’t have gone any better. Everything just clicked. It was great.”

So now the Rangers will need to turn the page on their great European adventure and begin preparing for not only their home opener Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, but for a stretch that begins that evening with six games in nine nights, a grueling early season test for the Blueshirts.

But the lessons learned, and the bonds formed, in Switzerland and the Czech Republic should help carry the Rangers through this difficult stretch, as well as through the long journey ahead, one that Lundqvist envisions being “hopefully a long Stanley Cup run.”
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