Bob Birge

Hockey Night In Connecticut

A blog focusing on the New York Rangers and all things hockey (also Yankees and Giants) with a New York attitude from a fan of 40 years whose greatest highlight came when Mark Messier lifting the Stanley Cup on June 14, 1994

Do you want to receive email notification when this member publishes a story?

Thursday Marks 18th Anniversary Of Rangers' Stanley Cup win

June 13, 2012

 

Yeah, we know the Kings won the Stanley Cup on Monday but before we wrap up the season, we have to point out that Thursday marks the 18th anniversary of the most famous moment in New York Rangers' history.

 

On June 14, 1994, the Rangers defeated the Canucks 3-2 to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Here are my recollections from a very special time:

 

That Tuesday morning 18 years ago, dawned to oppressive heat and humidity, befitting our moods.

After the 4-1 loss in game six and seeing those damn white towels waiving at Pacific Coliseum amid the  beautiful Western Canadian sunset, I was convinced that it wasn't going to happen.

I was convinced that our beloved -- and cursed - hockey team was going to find a new, even more exotic way to break our hearts. We might have thought they had exhausted every possible method of doing that, but squandering a 3-1 lead in the Final would top all the previous heartbreaks.

The Rangers were just never going to win the Stanley Cup again. They would go into the 21st Century as  hockey's version of the Chicago Cubs, the one difference being that these weren't the "lovable losers".

Cubs fans, a remarkable breed themselves, seemed to have accepted their lot as losers; Rangers fans never have. We dealt with our fate, but it didn't mean that we ever accepted it.

Through all those years when the Rangers didn't win the Cup, the one thing that separated them from all other teams was the passion of the fans. No one ever cared as much or cheered as hard. I will take that belief to the grave.

I swear, there were times when the fans worked harder than the players on the ice. For 2 1/2 hours, we would yell and scream until we were hoarse and emotionally exhausted. We fought, we cursed and more than anything else, we consumed a heck of a lot of beer.

Back in the day, the Garden on hockey night was like a bar-room brawl in the old West. This was our Passion play. We cheered with every fiber of our soul, chasing a prize we knew deep down that we could never have, or so it seemed.

I slept poorly on the night of June 11, 1994, thinking of all the crushing defeats the Rangers had suffered during my 27 seasons as a fan.

There was the seventh game loss to the Blackhawks in the 1971 semifinals at Chicago Stadium on a fluke goal. There was Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins skating with the Cup at the Garden in 1972, the only time an opposing team ever did that.

In 1974, the Rangers stood around and watched as defenseman Dale Rolfe got the crap beat out of him by  Philadelphia tough guy Dave Schultz at the Spectrum in another seven-game defeat in the semifinals.

A year later, there was J.P. Parise of the upstart Islanders scoring 11 seconds into overtime to eliminate the Rangers in the first round at the Garden. The goal -- the second-fastest playoff OT goal ever in the NHL -- changed the course of hockey history. It signalled the rise of the Islanders and the end of successful yet frustrating era (no Cups) on Broadway.

The defeat led to cataclysmic events that fall. Popular goaltender Eddie Giacomin was put on waivers and claimed by Detroit. In an ironic twist, two days later on Halloween of all days, he returned to New York as a member of the Red Wings.

Chants of "Eddie, Eddie" rocked the Garden as Rangers fans rooted for Giacomin, cheering his every save. With
tears in his eyes, Giacomin beat the Rangers, 6-4, and Rangers fans did themselves so proud.

 

I was a little too young to understand why Rangers fans would root against their team, but it didn't take me long to understand what that night meant, that it was one of the most memoral nights in Garden history.

Then came the trade in November of 1975 that rocked the hockey world as the Rangers and Emil Francis continued to clean house. John Ratelle, a member of the famed GAG line, was dealt along with Brad Park and Joe Zanussi to the hated Boston Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.

It took a long time for Rangers' fans to get over the shock of that trade and some never really did, although Esposito did lead the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1979, when they avenged the loss to the  Islanders four years earlier.

In 1984, the Rangers and Islanders met in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. Don Maloney tied the deciding game of the first round series at Nassau Coliseum in the final minute, but Ken Morrow, one of the 1980 Olympic heroes, scored on a bad-angle goal in overtime to end the Rangers' hopes of upsetting the defending four-time Stanley Cup champions.

In 1992, Mark Messier's first season on Broadway, the Rangers won the President's Trophy and had a team capable of winning the Cup. They led the reigning Cup champion Penguins 2-1 in the Patrick Division finals, but Mike Richter let in a brutal goal from center ice in the fourth game that turned around the series. The  Rangers went down in flames, losing in six games. As they lost the sixth game, they were taunted with chants of "1940!" at the Igloo.

Just two years later, here were the Rangers again on the verge of another catastrophic loss from which they might never recover.

After a few hours sleep, I awakened on June 12, 1994 still in a meloncholy mood that would endure for the next 48 hours.

But I chastised myself for giving up. I still didn't think the Rangers were going to win, but I decided that if they were going down, I would have to go down with them. It was my sacred duty as a fan. I also had a task to perform.

Two days later and eight hours before Armegeddon with the temperature already hovering around 90 degrees, I started out for the Garden, not in an attempt to get a ticket for game seven but to purchase another miniature Stanley Cup for $4.95 that I left in the bar during the 6-3 game five loss in which the teams combined for eight goals in the third period.

This was my final act of desperation. I was still pessimistic about the Rangers' chances but if I didn't have another one of those Stanley Cup replicas in my possession, they might as well not even bothered to take the ice that night.

I had always told myself that if the Rangers ever had an opportunity to win the Cup, I would have to be there. But after my game five experience, I was petrified to be anywhere near the Garden. And so I came home to continue the countdown to our impending doom.

I stopped off at a package store to buy two bottles of champagne, then visited my father's grave. He was never much of a hockey fan but I told him how much I wanted this. For about 15 minutes, I prayed to all the Rangers greats and no-so-greats in the sky.

I have watched thousands of sporting events in my lifetime. There is not one - not a single one -- that can compare to that seventh game against the Canucks. It was the climax of a month-long roller coaster ride of astonishing emotional extremes in which our lives were being held hostage by a hockey team.

I watched the game alone, as I had to, in the living room of my mom's house. The goals are forever etched in the memory banks. Leetchie from the left faceoff circle, Gravey with the one-timer from the slot and Mess off a scramble in front.

The Rangers led 3-1 after two periods. "The Rangers are 20 minutes away," Sam Rosen exclaimed. They would turn out to be the longest 20 minutes of our lives, 20 minutes that lasted 54 years.

 

Trevor Linden scored his second of the night to pull the Canucks within 3-2 five minutes into the third, and the seconds on the clock moved like glaciers melting.

Looking back, it's amazing how close the Rangers came to not winning as they desperately tried to hold on to the one-goal lead. Nathan Lafayette hit the post with about five minutes remaining, and we all gasped.

Every time the puck crossed the goal line referee Kevin Collins called icing against the Rangers, prolonging the agony. There were two brutal icing calls in the final minute when Pavel Bure made no attempt to play the puck.

Finally, finally, the final faceoff, Craig MacTavish and Bure dug in to the right of Richter with 1.6 seconds remaining.

MacTavish won the faceoff, pulled the puck back along the boards and everything became a blur. Had it really
happened? Was it real, or a dream?

I raced up the stairs. Mom, the only one who really understood how much I loved this hockey team, raced down. We met halfway and embraced.

Then we went outside. I poured champagne over her head. I poured champagne over my head and drank the sweatest
nector from the gods out of my Stanley Cup.

I felt at one with every Rangers' fan past, present and future. This was our bond at 10:59 p.m. that could never be broken.

Every year at that precise moment on June 14, I conduct a moment of silence to honor the memory.

As a sports fan, I consider myself pretty fortunate. I have seen the Yankees win seven World Series titles, the New York Giants four Super Bowl crowns and the Boston Celtics six NBA championships.

Combined, those 17 championships don't mean as much to me as June 14. It will, as Rosen said, last a lifetime.  Our moment, our time that no one will ever be able to take away from us.

 

Since 2005, the year after Mom passed away, I make sure to visit her grave on June 14.

 

Comments:
loading Loading comments...

Your Sports Network
Connect in Your Sport!

SportsHigh5

SportsNews