Pavel Bure

No Summer Lovin` Here

by Charles Solomon

The summer is a challenging time for hockey fans. Sure we have crucial dates like the draft (June 21-22) at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, and July 1st, when all it takes is a wad of millions to acquire some of the games elite players, but most of the summer is boring. Trades come and go, like last year’s now famous trade between the Ducks and the Devils that sent Jeff Friesen and Oleg Tverdovsky to Jersey for Petr Sykora however, most of the summer is spent hoping and waiting for the season to begin. 

Ranger fans will hope that Garth Murray or Fedor Tyutin can crack the lineup, that the new coach, whomever he may be, can bring some defense and discipline, and that Pavel Bure’s knees and the Big E’s head stay in one piece. It is in this spirit of hope and out of the simple fact that there isn’t much going on for the hockey fan that I write this article about a few things that just transpired, and about the possibility of some other things that may transpire over another long, hot summer. 

I had lost significant interest in hockey after the Rangers failed to make the playoffs. However, when the Devils made the cup finals I realized that the hockey opportunity of a lifetime was knocking on my door and I’d be an idiot not to answer. It took a few seconds for me to do some simple math: Boring team with few fans + bad economy = tickets to be bought. I got on the ball for games one, five, and seven. Each time I wore the Paul Kariya jersey I bought in California four years ago, and each time I pulled for my adopted Mighty Ducks to defeat the team I hate more than any other in professional sports. Each time the Devils overcame my ill wishes and were victorious. Game one was painfully boring, game five was ridiculously sloppy, and game seven was a vintage Jersey victory. All I want to say about games one and game five is that the remarks the drunken fans made were more entertaining than the games. Game seven, although the outcome was intensely painful for a lifetime Devil hater, was an experience that’ll last a lifetime. 

I consider myself to be an extremely lucky individual when I think about the fact that there have only been twelve game sevens to decide the Stanley Cup winner in the history of hockey. I realize I am even luckier when I think about the fact that my seats were four rows behind the Ducks bench. I saw every hair in Keith Carney’s playoff beard, I saw Jiggy’s red face when he’d skate over the bench during TV timeouts, I saw Kariya’s look of determination, and I saw coach Babcock trying to energize and direct his squad. The game was a pretty good one, but instead of analyzing it, I will just say that seeing the cup is one of the most amazing experiences in my lifetime. She’s got nicer curves than most women and she shines brilliantly. I only wish I could’ve done something to keep it out of Stevens’ hands and somehow put it in Paul’s paws. 

The experience was really special and I hope that the whole Ranger organization was watching because they better get motivated to start winning. Heck, I worked out with a lot more enthusiasm for the next few days after I saw the cup. I stayed up late the night of the game because I felt really upset that Stumpy, Oatsey, and Jiggy (who was playing for his very sick mother) did not get the cup. I just do not understand how the Rangers don’t try extremely hard every night to beat the crap out of whomever the poor saps that they are playing. It is with the premise of uniquely motivated effort that I will begin to discuss the summer. 

Sather & co. better be pissed that the Cup is across the Hudson because even if the Devils can’t fill their building for game seven, the hockey world is watching and laughing. The cup finals taught us that to win hockey games in this day and age an interesting mix of defense, youth, and coaching is required to win. It does not take fifty goal scorers and it does not take a boatload of big hitters. Obstruction still rules, but speed still kills. Speed is no longer defined by the time it takes a player to skate from red line to red line, it’s now defined by a team’s ability to swarm puck-carriers, to get back into position, and to make the transition from defense to offense. Defense wins games and championships, and head coaches who preach this are successful. It also does not take overpaid players, like Lindros, to win. 

Younger, cheaper players have youth and hunger on their side, while the value of a Stumpy Thomas or a Ken Daneyko cannot go overlooked. In the words of Barry Melrose, “Will always triumphs over skill”. Each team had a checking center and each team had a defensive defenseman who was a major anchor for the squad. Scoring was done on a committee basis. No team relied on one line to get them through series’ let alone the playoffs. Lines like the Mike Rupp line could come through and win games, but the Ducks and Devils had to guess which line on the other team would come up big each night. Lastly, and unequivocally most importantly, each team’s goalie played better than any other goalie in their respective conferences during the playoffs. 

To Glen, the message should ring loud and clear. Unfortunately for Ranger fans, it seems as if Slats has gone def and will toil at all cost to recreate eighties hockey. Just look at our roster! Even Holik is being used offensively! Can’t he see the worst ice in hockey provides him with a brilliant opportunity to implement one of the nastiest traps in hockey? If you get around our trap your passes and stick handling moves still have the terrible MSG ice to deal with. This is a battle with nature that the opponent will always struggle to win. 

As for the aforementioned roster, I just desperately hope we trade Nedved. I think he is the biggest sissy to play hockey, and he’s really nothing special at all. His comeback year will give him value and the Rangers would do better to have Petr on another club. I know he was our number one center and if Lindros went down we’d be in trouble, but this is a dilemma winners do not have. Winning teams do not have players like Nedved and they do not have players whose career could end at any minute. 

Winning teams also do not have forty-one year olds playing eighteen minutes a night. Get the picture? After seeing the cup I know two things: one is it would be so much fun for it to spend a quality summer in the greatest city in the world. Two is that the Rangers need to retool big time if they want a chance at hoisting it. Sorry guys, but Slats is simply trying to overload the roster with talent to get the Rangers in the playoffs. If he wanted the Rangers to one day dominate the league, then he would go about business a whole lot differently. I love his attitude, but I fear his ego is getting in the way of his allowing himself to admit he was wrong and change the fate of our pathetic organization. 

As this goes on, all that nerdy owner Jim Dolan does is smile and nod, captivated by Sather’s confidence while his team goes down the drain. I just want Ranger fans to enjoy competitive hockey like Devils fan do. We’ve earned the right to have a great team to cheer for because, at least, we fill up our building and don’t have parties in our parking lot. A retooling will take more years and could set records for playoff futility, but we have already seen that a motivated bunch of players and a good coach is all you need to make the playoffs. Remember the twenty million dollar Minnesota Wild? 

Even if the playoffs elude the Rangers because of the retooling, I swear the cup will be worth it. No trophy in sports is more special and the Rangers have to take dead aim at that silver chalice and forget about everything else. In hockey, the only thing that matters is the cup, and if Slats does not start acting like that’s the case, it will be another fifty-four years.

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