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Weather no match for fans at Toy Drive

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
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A cold, soaking-wet night wasn't enough to keep hundreds of Rangers fans from showing their passion for the team and donating to a worthy cause on Thursday night at The Pond at Bryant Park.

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi poses with one of the U.S. Marines collecting toys for the Toys for Tots program during Thursday's Rangers Holiday Toy Drive.
A constant downpour forced the event to be moved from its traditional outdoor location to the skate-rental area tent, and also prevented attendees from using the rink at The Pond, but there was no apparent decrease in turnout from previous editions of the Rangers Holiday Toy Drive.

At the 15th annual event – and the fourth consecutive one held at Bryant Park -- a stream of fans exchanged their new, unwrapped toys for Rangers players' autographs and the opportunity to meet their heroes.

Thursday's Rangers lineup included three groups of two players, who each signed for roughly an hour as fans came through with their donations. The first group, which kicked off the event at 4 p.m., included defenseman Wade Redden and rookie forward Lauri Korpikoski.

After Redden and Korpikoski, fans were treated to two more signing sessions featuring Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Girardi and Fredrik Sjostrom and Petr Prucha. Of the six players who attended on Thursday, all except Prucha were appearing at a Toy Drive for the first time, and all came away very impressed.

"I remember similar events when I played in Phoenix, but nobody does this as well as the Rangers and nobody has fans like these," said Sjostrom, who said he was bowled over by the turnout in the face of adverse weather conditions.

Also on hand Thursday were Rangers greats Adam Graves and Ron Duguay, as well as Hockey Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson, a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team. All three Rangers Alumni were just as popular as the current players, drawing large lines for their autographs, and posing for countless pictures with fans of all ages.

While on the autograph line, fans were given an opportunity to answer Rangers trivia questions for prizes ranging from a puck signed by Chris Drury to a stick signed by Ryan Callahan. There were also caricature artists and face-painters on hand, as well as representatives of the Rangers Road Tour.

As always, the night's biggest winners were the kids who benefit from the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program, which has collected over 65,000 toys from Rangers fans since the event began in the mid-1990s. Throughout the evening, members of the Marine Corps could be seen carting boxes of toys out of the tent to make room for the flow of generous donations.

Graves, who organized the first Holiday Toy Drive 15 years ago, said he wasn't surprised by the strong show of support for the program on Thursday.

"Rangers fans like a tough team, and that's because they're certainly tough people themselves," said Graves. "We have had this event in rain and sub-zero temperatures before, and that has never stopped these great fans from coming."
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