Every year the NHL comes right around my birthday. It's an awesome birthday gift because -- as I've written more times than I can remember -- hockey is really the only sport I lose sleep over. This year the NHL has granted me an even better gift, not only does hockey come back on my birthday, but the Rangers are playing on my birthday, too. Well, it will be a great gift if they win ...
As soon as the season kicks off my world orbits around them akin to the way the moon revolves around the Earth. Yes there are still more important things (the Earth does revolve around the sun, after all) but it's a pretty big deal.
It's a time consuming investment without Blueshirt Banter, so go ahead and multiply that investment by about ten. This site is very much so a living, breathing organism. It needs to be nurtured daily in order to survive. I need a lot of help there, I have a fantastic staff to do just that, but it makes the investment that much heavier.
I'm not complaining about that, by the way. I love this place. I love this team. I love this sport.
But when the ride comes to a stop and things end it's jarring. And when the team gets really close but they can't come over the hump, it's relatively devastating.
You, quite simply, do not know how many cracks you're going to get at The Cup and every lost opportunity is another shot you're never going to get back. Handshake lines are terrifying. The one two years ago wasn't that bad in retrospect because the Rangers were perceived to be growing on that greatness.
Sitting in the silence that follows losing a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden for the first time in the organization's nearly century-long history felt a lot like a gut punch last year. It wasn't just that the season ended, it was the thick, suffocating reality of being just shy of both competing for and winning the Stanley Cup. Again.
I'm sick of being close.
I'm sick of being on the wrong end of the final handshake line.
I'm sick of there only being four Stanley Cup banners hanging in the rafters.
With great expectation comes great pressure. Before the season began last year I wrote an entire story about living with expectations where I outlined this:
The summer changed this a little, though. Now the hopes and dreams are expectations and realities. If the Rangers don't get back to the Stanley Cup Final this year will be a disappointment and a failure. If they get close (say back to the Eastern Conference Finals) it will be bearable but will also come with "did the window close." If they do worse? Failure. Unless something insane happens to change this perception during the year.
That within itself is an enormous hurdle to jump, especially in the room. The leaders need to feed on that pressure or else it will consume them and everyone else with it. Vigneault will play a key role here, and his calm demeanor will go a long way in keeping things cool and collected when the waters get a little rocky. Will it be enough? Well, he succeeded last year while being screamed at in October, which is about as loud as the Rangers "fan insanity" machine got all year. So that's a good start.
Reading that is like reading a book you've already read where you loved the story but hated the ended. The smaller things might have slipped from your memory, but you know how the book ends and every page brings you closer to it.
The Rangers did feed off the pressure in the regular season. They did utilize Vigneault's calm demeanor when things got rocky. They did get in their own way a little. They did march through the playoffs. They did overcome a 3-1 deficit for the second consecutive year. They did get all the way back to the Eastern Conference Final.
And they did fall short ... Again.
I don't know where this ride ends, and I'm not speaking about this season but this golden age itself. The Rangers have had more success recently than they have in nearly 20 years and as of right now they have nothing to show for it. Eventually this window will close.
That's what's terrifying. It might not be next year or the year after. It might be three years from now, it might be five years from now or it might be this year. You. Don't. Know.
So you watch the games with your hands over your eyes peeking through your fingers. Your heart races a little when things start going south as you wait for them to right the ship. You feel like you're on a never-ending high when the team is doing well and you puff your chest out with pride when they start marching. They make that happen.
The Rangers get to manipulate how you react emotionally and they will take you on ups and downs. They will ruin your night. They reserve the right to bring you close to the promise land and then let you down. They are permitted to make you believe in magic. They have permission to get inside your brain and make you -- a 26-year-old adult -- jump up and down like a small child at a birthday party.
Go read the fine print on your fan contract.
They also get to decide how you feel going into a season. I love hockey and I love being excited about the Rangers. I start on a high because what's the point of starting low and depressed? I think it's stupid. You might as well make the most of being a fan.
With all that said, though, you never know how it's going to end. You just don't know what this team will do or become. That's part of the deal. You sign up for a year-long commitment with no knowledge of what it's going to do to you emotionally.
I fully understand that. I agreed to the terms and conditions a long time ago. I'm in and I'm in for life regardless of what happens.
I'm just sick of being close.