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Why I’m a Fan of the New York Rangers

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Ottawa Senators v New York Rangers - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Welcome to the refreshed Blueshirt Banter! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

I’m completely against any form of hockey fandom that suggests you have to have played to be able to say – well, pretty much anything. You don’t. But my Rangers fandom is tied to my playing hockey (or rather, my attempts to do so, since I sucked), albeit in a weird sort of way.

If you’ve played hockey, or if your children or a friend or partner has, you know the drill. There’s a rink. It’s big and the lights are either dim or blinding and it’s miserably cold except for the places where it’s nauseatingly hot. The hour is either stupefyingly early or inconveniently late. You drag/haul a bag that, until you hit PeeWee, is probably bigger than you are. If you’re playing a game, you might be allocated a locker room. It smells like the bottom of your bag; the floor is littered with balls of tape and empty cardboard rings. If the opposing team is in the room next to you, you bang on the walls and scream insults. You dress, lace up, head out. Players slimy with sweat tromp off the ice, fling equipment and water bottles, insult each other with varying degrees of obscenity as the next group marches out and crowds the gate to wait for the Zamboni to finish.

It’s the universal hockey experience, right? Sure.

Now, imagine that you and your slimy teammates are 12-17 year old girls, and the team waiting for you to finish already is the New York Rangers.

That was the case for me and the Girls A team from Pelham, New York, back in 1986-87. The Rangers’ practice facility was being renovated, and they were unleashed on the unsuspecting, previously-sleepy hamlet of Rye, New York. (There’s a great account of their hotel hijinks here.) And, on Saturday mornings, their practices followed ours at Rye Playland. Instead of the usual bunch of hooting teenage boys, our final drills and laps were watched with mild amusement/utter indifference by the likes of Ron Greschner, Kelly Kisio, and Don Maloney — if they showed up on time, of course.

Also imagine that all this becomes such old hat that you don’t even stick around to watch them practice, because you got up at 6 am and you want to go back to bed, or you have to get your mom’s car home. It never occurs to you ask the Rangers for autographs. They’re just hockey players, like you. Kind of. Besides, you just finished a 90 minute practice, which in the late 80s means that you are wearing boxer shorts and a tie-dyed t-shirt and a bandanna and spectacularly un-sexy stretchy white garters to hold up your mismatched practice socks and your hair is in a limp knot on your head.

You do not look like jailbait, were any of them so inclined. You look like a hockey player after practice. You look like a drowned rat.

You do, however, save abandoned sticks, printed with the players’ names. Over your fireplace at home: VANBEISBROUCK. You lose your goddamn minds the day Pierre LaRouche decides to parade around in a towel. And you’re sad, if not really surprised, when, in April of ‘87, they fall to the Flyers in 6 in the first round (Philly went on to lose the Cup to the Oilers in 7), and miss the playoffs completely the following year.

I grew up in Westchester in the 1980s. By all sports logic, my allegiance should be to the Islanders. BUT HOW COULD I BE ANYTHING BUT A RANGERS FAN? We shared ice, dammit. That means something. And, over the last 30 years, we’ve shared a lot more.

I am happy for the PK and the Preds. But I will always be a Rangers fan, in spite of their Stone-Age social media, Alain Vigneault’s inexplicably awful deployment decisions, and the organization’s near-pathological refusal to acknowledge the Riveters. Loving them brings to mind a great Carrie Fisher line from Postcards From the Edge: “she sought out unpleasant boyfriends, and then complained about them as if the government had allocated them to her.” The government didn’t give me the Rangers, but the hockey gods did. And they’ll have to do a whole lot worse for me to give them back.

Still, I’d say they make me cry on average once a week. Last week, it was when Henrik Lundqvist won the Gold for Sweden. (Writing is great, but no matter how well I do it, William Nylander is never going to tackle me in pure helpless joy.) I can’t tell you how often I’ve dreamed of seeing Hank do that in blue, and I know I’m not the only one.

We all want, so badly, for the players and teams we love to win. It’s kind of for ourselves, but not really. Fandom involves an often-inexplicable alchemy of self and team. Like alchemy, it’s about faith, not science, and the results are almost never what you wanted. The magic is in the belief that someday the attempts will pay off — in the Rangers’ case, with the silver of Lord Stanley’s Cup, as opposed to gold.

(Here’s another essay on my re-ignited fandom from 2014, over at The Modern Spectator, a site that quietly offers some of the best long-form sports journalism out there.)