On June 15th, 1994 the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup, ending a 54 year drought. Many Rangers fans have fond, vivid memories of the names, faces, and moments from those halcyon days.
On June 15th, 1994 I was 3-years-old, four days from turning four, and my memories of those halcyon days come from a worn out video-tape that I watched constantly as a kid, in a way coopting memories and emotions that weren’t mine, not genuinely. My first genuine memory of the New York Rangers is of Wayne Gretzky in the twilight of his career, still better than everyone on the ice by sheer reputation alone.
For a long time, between the late 90s and the early 2000s, led by Glen Sather and his “if I had the Rangers’ payroll I’d make the playoffs every year” prognostication, the Rangers were... bad. Bad and boring, with a roster filled with players that were overpaid for production three or four years ago, and younger players who were forced into roles that they weren’t ready to be in. For years going to games seemed perfunctory for the players and fans; the hockey was slow and filled with one line passes and big, slow bodies taking their time going up and down the ice. As the early 2000s continued, the Rangers seemed to be destined for the cellar in the standings, and total indifference and obscurity in the mind of the general fan.
Then the 2004 lockout happened – a full season was lost, a salary cap installed, and new rules were implemented to try and make the game faster. Going into the 2005-06 season the Rangers were still a long shot to make the playoffs (in fact Sports Illustrated predicted the Rangers to finish dead last) as the roster was still older, led by a seemingly over the hill Jaromir Jagr who was just playing out his time before he could retire. Everyone was interested in seeing the “new” NHL, but no one was really interested in seeing the Rangers.
As the 2005-06 season got under way, the Rangers were... winning. Jagr seemed reenergized playing with center Michael Nylander and winger Martin Straka. The sudden appearance of a young goal scorer that the Rangers have been searching for almost for eternity also helped, as Petr Prucha made the most of the sudden rise in penalties being called. Behind all of this though, was a young goalie from Sweden –the 205th pick in the 2000 draft, the same draft where Rick DiPietro was taken 1st overall by the New York Islanders.
Henrik Lundqvist changed the Rangers. He wasn’t just a young goalie getting hot for a season, he brought something else to MSG every time he was on the ice. For the first time in a long time it was fun to go to Rangers games again, and while a big part of that was watching Jaromir Jagr seemingly defy age and reason, most of it was to see Hank. He was more than a goalie – Henrik quickly became the soul and face of the Rangers.
As the Jagr years bled into the Callahan and Dubinsky years, Hank remained and got better and better. The Rangers began climbing up the standings and suddenly the Rangers were making the playoffs with regularity, developing rivalries with the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins as their best, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, went up against Henrik and discovered what Rangers fans were beginning to realize – this Lundqvist guy is more than good, he’s better than great, he is The King.
Through it all, the endless series against Ovechkin and the Caps, the trudges of the regular season, the countless saves, and rescues of a defense and team that has never really quite lived up to his greatness, he’s been there. Henrik Lundqvist has been there for 11 years now, standing in the blue paint, framed by the crimson iron of the net. A King, but he’s more than a king, for how many kings also act as sentinel and warrior – doing everything he can to see his kingdom rise to glory?
Over the past month we here at Blueshirt Banter have been going through some of our favorite moments of Henrik Lundqvist’s career. Through every word, image, and .gif, everything that we’ve written has always had two underlying words that haven’t been spoken until now: Thank you.
Thank you, Hank.
As a fan base we have taken everything you’ve done wearing that blue sweater for granted, only just recently realizing just how exceptional you are, and have been over your stellar career. So, from everyone here at the Banter; Joe, Mike, Beth, Shayna, Tom, Pat, Jack, Scott, Bryan, Connor, Adam, and myself:
Thank you, Henrik.
Forever may you reign.