Monday afternoon at Lasker Rink in Central Park, Dunkin Donuts announced a new partnership with the NHL. Dunkin will now be the official coffee (and donut and breakfast sandwich) of both the NHL and the NWHL, and Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh will be one of their spokespeople, along with David Backes of the Boston Bruins and Meghan Duggan, captain of the US Women’s National Team and forward for the Boston Pride.
Dunkin Donuts’ investment in the sport makes perfect sense: as any hockey player (or family) can tell you, coffee is essential for all those predawn drives to freezing rinks, and I was more than happy to have a cup while watching the proceedings. After the requisite speeches and a generous donation from Dunkin to Ice Hockey in Harlem, McDonagh spent most of the event skating around and playing with the kids. I did manage to grab him for a few quick questions; here are the answers.
Blueshirt Banter: What is the Rangers’ biggest strength right now?
Ryan McDonagh: Our team speed I think; we talk a lot about it offensively, but we like to try and use it defensively as well, taking away time and space*, getting out of our zone quick, so it’s a big emphasis, something we work on and talk about a lot. It’s got to continue to be a strength for us if we want to continue to win games.
BSB: And what is the team’s biggest, uh, not-strength? What do you know you need to work on?
McDonagh: I think we can always improve on coming out of our zone a little bit cleaner.** Sometimes we might look to make the pretty play every time or connect the dots, but sometimes you just got to make the right read, and then maybe use the high chip, flip it out, use our speed that way. We’re just fine-tuning our reads and learning to get on the same page as one another.
BSB: Brady Skjei has been a huge asset to the blue line. Tell me about him.***
McDonagh: He’s got a great strength in his skating ability, it gives him an opportunity to make plays both offensively and defensively. He’s realizing when there’s a time to use that skating ability, and when there’s not. So far, like you said, it’s been impressive to see what he can do.
BSB: Sometimes you guys score multiple beautiful goals in a row, while other times you get pinned in your zone by the very same team. How do you explain such a dramatic shift in play? How does it feel when you’re out there?
McDonagh: Certainly you know it’s not going to be picture-perfect every time. We’re certainly learning different ways to win games, you know, sometimes the opponent’s taking away our speed game or our skill game, so we’ve got to find ways to kind of get some dirty goals, so to speak, as opposed to just the pretty ones ... Last game for a while we didn’t have a lot of shots so in the third period we talked about getting shots on net and good things happened from there. I think it’s a fine line between trying to make an extra play or putting the puck toward the net.
BSB: Rangers fans are extremely loyal, but they can also be harsh critics. What do you wish the fans knew about this group of players?****
McDonagh: No matter the score of the game I think this group continues to work. We’ve proven to ourselves that we can come back in any game. No matter what the score is, don’t lose faith in us, because we certainly don’t lose faith in each other out there.
There you have it. I think McDonagh touched on a lot of things we’ve discussed here, albeit briefly. “Learning different ways to win games” sounds a lot like “adjusting;” we didn’t see a lot of this the past, but it could make for a much better future. One thing’s for sure: if the Captain asks us to keep the faith, we should make a solid effort to do it ...
... at least until, oh, say, halfway through the third period tonight.
Many thanks to Ryan McDonagh for his time, kindness, and thoughtful responses, and to Dunkin Donuts for their commitment to growing the game for men and for women.
*Is this where black holes come from?
**Oh thank God. If he hadn’t said this, frankly I’m not sure what I would have done.
***Yes, I had a question about Clendening (“Uh, about Clendo ...”), but I didn’t have time to ask it.
****Might as well acknowledge how critical we are, right? And yes, it’s kind of a dumb question, but have you ever tried to walk, talk, read, and listen at the same time? It is NOT easy!