Note: We so rarely step on each other’s toes on this website. I try very hard to make sure we don’t have more than one pressing story on the same subject, especially if it’s basically saying the same thing. This story isn’t needed with Mike’s beautiful work yesterday on the matter, but I felt like writing it anyway. If anyone breaks the trend, it should be Steven McDonald.
There was a time I hated that the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award existed. In a way, I still do now. Because if it didn’t exist then that would mean Steven McDonald would have never been paralyzed in the first place, right? That he wouldn’t have been shot three times that night, that he would have went home, kissed his wife and gone to bed, woke up the next morning and never missed a beat. That everything would have been okay. At least for one night.
We have a special relationship with first responders in New York City. It’s just ... different here. I don’t know how else to describe it. It seems like every event strengthens that relationship, with 9/11 solidifying it in a way that I can’t articulate for you here.
There’s a reason why the Garden goes nuts when policemen or firemen are the flag bearers. There’s a reason why the Garden explodes when army veterans are thanked for their service on the jumbo-tron. There’s a reason why people get out of their seats when performers like the West Point Brass Anthem come to do the anthem.
And there’s a reason why the Steven McDonald extra effort award was so important.
There was a reason why you got the chills when he came out onto the ice. Just like the chills you get when you realize how big his son, Conor, has become, and the speeches he gives and how damn proud you are to be in the same building as someone like him. We watched Conor grow up every year. And we watched his father look at him with pride and love.
There’s a reason why this award means something. I mean, really means something. Something you feel. Something you don’t have to be told. It’s not something guys win and throw away. It’s not a fake smile for a photo then back to business. So little phases the professional athlete these days, but watch any Ranger accept the award. Watch their face, you can always see the meaning in their face.
Do I wish the award didn’t exist? In man ways yes, for all the above reasons. But in a world where bad things happen to good people -- something we can’t control -- I’m glad it exists. Because Steven McDonald wasn’t just a hero, he was an inspiration. He wasn’t just the face of an award, he was a beacon of light for anyone going through a struggle in their life.
Look at him. Really look at him. He was alive, he was living. You could feel the difference if you were there. It meant something.
Tragically McDonald passed away yesterday, succumbing to a heart attack he had suffered days before.
This is an enormous blow to both New York and the New York Rangers community.
The Rangers deserve a ton of credit for their role in McDonald’s story, and how they’ve used it to raise money and help other people. There are few organizations, if any, in the world that are classier than the New York Rangers.
Every year a winner would be selected for the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. Players of all skill levels and sizes earned that honor. Players like Tony Granato, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch. Wayne Gretzky and Henrik Lundqvist have won. Or what about Adam Graves, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinksy? Jan Erixon? John Vanbiesbrouck? The full list of winners can be seen here if you’re curious.
It wasn’t just an award for the goal-scorers, though. Sandy McCarthy and Jed Ortmeyer each won the award twice. Matthew Barnaby won it one year, too. So did Brandon Prust. The heart and soul players.
The award was meant to honor those who gave everything they had for the team. And in return they got to share a piece of the ice with a real hero, pose for a picture donating some money and get a memory that would last them for the rest of their lives.
I can tell you, without hesitation, that he was and is an inspiration for me. He always will be, too.
He spit in the face of death, publicly forgave the man who shattered life as he knew it and spent the time he fought to have preaching the message of love and forgiveness. He lived a wonderful life, helped many people and did it all from the wealth of what was inside his heart.
The world, at times, can be a beautiful, breathtaking place. The world can also feel like a pit of darkness where you’re alone and scared.
Steven McDonald was a light in those moments of darkness. He will continue to be a light, too.
Rangers fans were blessed to know that light well.