This is the third of a four-part series written by fans of the four conference finalists. SI.com's executive editor Ryan Hunt has provided insight into how much the Lightning mean to his life, MMA star CM Punk described his love of the Blackhawks, and Lindsay Davenport discussed her personal connection to the Ducks.
It all started in 1968. I was seven years old and my dad was working on the brand new Madison Square Garden. His company had a few tickets and he decided to take me to a Rangers game. He had been a fan for many years and I followed in his fandom footsteps, but I had never been to a game. We went to a handful that year and I was hooked.
The star of the team at that time was none other than Rod Gilbert. And Rod Gilbert wore number seven. And I fell in love with Rod Gilbert. I loved everything that Rod Gilbert was. The personality. The great hockey player. The goal scorer. Rod Gilbert is the reason why I wore number seven in the NFL. I never played hockey when I was a kid. I played football, baseball, basketball . We couldn’t afford hockey. I lost my mom when I was six years old, right around that time in 1968 and my dad used sports to kind of distract me from not having a mom in my life.
I lived all the way out in the middle of Long Island and it wasn’t easy to get to the Garden. My dad worked in the city and would drive home to get me and we’d go back into the city, but we did a lot of Saturday games. That’s when the Rangers not only became a passion, they became an obsession. I can’t remember a season in which there hasn’t been the ups and downs of being so invested. I think it’s become progressively worse over the years. I’m a fan of other teams in other sports, but no team has ever captivated me more as a fan, as a kid and as an adult, as the Rangers.
We as Rangers fans are frustrated, there’s no question about that. But we’re also thankful because our team, especially the past four years, has gone deep into the playoffs. Last year it went to the Stanley Cup finals and this is their third Eastern Conference Finals in that time span. So I can’t complain due to the success of the team overall. However, I want to see another Cup. I remember in 1994 when I was at every single Cup game at MSG and had my three-year-old son there with me. He would fall asleep on me, and my wife wanted for us to go home, but I wouldn’t leave until the game was over so he could experience it.
This is the obsession. It only gets worse as you get older. But the thing you appreciate more than anything else about this particular sport and our particular team is who the players are and the character in which they carry themselves both on and off the ice. I think back to last year when former Ranger Brandon Prust, now with the Montreal Canadiens, delivered a cheap shot on Derek Stepan in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and broke his jaw. Stepan missed one game and came back with a modified mask to protect his injury in Game 5. If that doesn’t optimize who hockey players are, and what this hockey team is, then I don’t know what does. As a fan, how do you not appreciate and respect that? I feel the frustration of not winning the Cup since 1994 and up to that point for 40 years, but I can’t argue with the level of success that this team has had over the last 10 years. It’s been nothing but pure joy with some frustration woven in between.
There’s a sense of ownership that you have with a team like this. Especially when you’re a season ticket holder. I’ve been one for many years. I can’t even remember how long. As long as I’ve been able to afford tickets, I’ve had them. At the end of the day, if you’re invested and you have this obsession, you have to be there. There’s nothing quite like excitement, at least in this fan’s eyes, of a playoff game in Madison Square Garden.
GALLERY: Celebrities at NHL Playoff Games