With the huge amount of change that the Rangers roster has seen since July, it’s certainly been difficult to focus on anything except the revamped squad that the Garden Faithful will be watching this season. There’s a new superstar, a few new role guys, and, love him or hate him, a brand new goon. We’re in for a different brand of hockey and a new group of players led by an unpredictable coach. So at this point, I think it’s fair to say that the season is, more or less, a question mark. My feeling is that the team is either going to be very impressive or pretty dismal – I don’t think this roster is really geared towards finding any kind of middle ground. At the very least, it’s going to be interesting. The team this year begs a lot of questions, most of which can’t really be answered until at least a month or two into the season, when they’ll either find their chemistry or it will become obvious that every game is going to be a one-goal dog fight, right through April and into the playoffs. We can’t predict now whether or not Gaborik will play a full season, whether Prospal , Kotalik, Higgins, Callahan and Captain Clutch will fill in the score sheets with twenty some-odd goals each, or whether Brashear will win us over by taking Riley Cote or Chris Niel to task at center ice for cheap shotting one of our guys. There’s one thing, though, that we can count on: opening night at the Garden.
Opening night is different than any other game of the year. There’s no win/loss record yet, no statistics to pore over or clips to watch and watch again on youtube. There’s only the new season, a blank slate as pristine as the ice before the puck drops in the first period, and the excitement of the 81 games coming up over the next few months. And, of course, there’s the Garden. During the season I can’t wait to get there, and after the playoffs end I can’t wait to get back. The smell, the temperature (not cold but never hot), and the draft Bud Light that, for some reason, tastes kind of like strawberries (has anyone else noticed this?). No matter where the Rangers are predicted to finish, no matter which mainstays left during the off-season season or which brand new players they’ve just signed that year, the buzz on opening night always makes me think that this is it, this could be the year, this will be the spring that we bring Stanley back to Broadway.
Every year, my Dad and I get tickets to the home opener, no matter how busy we are with work or how outrageously expensive they are on StubHubb. Some things, he likes to say, are just more important than others. The Rangers home opener is one of them. For each of the last four seasons, the Blueshirts have won their first game at home, and every year, my Dad and I have left the Garden telling each other without a shadow of a doubt that this will be the year they win it all. No matter how realistic that prediction actually is, every opening night makes it seem like the Cup is the Rangers’ trophy to lose. And sooner or later, it actually will be. That’s why we keep coming back – because one of these years, my Dad and I will be right. Regardless of how the regular season plays out, it’s opening night that keeps us coming back to those seats, because every year they seem to look just hungry enough to go the distance, even if it’s only for one night. Call me an optimist, I don’t care. The Rangers are my team, and for at least one night of the season, I know in my bones that they could go all the way. If not this year, then next year, if not next year, then the year after – every season has a home opener. The Garden will be louder, the players will be faster, and there’s nothing that any of the fans, the rest of the league or anyone else can hold against our team.
On October 3rd, the Rangers will open their (home) season against the Senators. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll tell you that I’m a little pensive about this year, that I’m nervous none of the new guys will gel, or that I’m worried the Olympic break is going to wear out Hank before the second half of the season even begins. But ask me at 6:45 PM on October 3rd, when my Dad and I are taking our usual seats, wearing our brand new Rangers hats (we get new ones every year), and drinking strawberry-tinged Bud Lights, and I’ll tell you that this is it, man, this is year we take back the Cup. Why? Because it’s going to be opening night, and the Rangers will be playing at the Garden again. See you there.
– Dan Gaffey