Why I root for the New York Rangers

Wayne Gretzky closed out his career in New York and nearly played with Joe Sakic

Why I root for the New York Rangers

Why does a Toronto native root for the New York Rangers, the original six franchise with the least number of Stanley Cups?

There’s countless reasons, but I’ll attempt to keep this brief.

Seven years before John Tavares signed with the Leafs and renewed Stanley Cup aspirations in Toronto, I recall being ecstatic upon hearing the news that high-priced free agent target Brad Richards had agreed to sign a nine-year, $60 million dollar contract with New York Rangers.

Richards embodied what I wanted in a first-line centre; tremendous vision, the ability to hit the 20-goal mark plateau, and less importantly, a left-handed shot. He spent only three seasons with the Rangers, but he helped lead the team to a Stanley Cup appearance in 2014, which saw the Los Angeles Kings win the cup in five games.

Despite having to buyout the rest of his contract the following offseason, the initial move of signing a veteran star to a long-term deal was a pretty typical decision for New York, unlike for most NHL teams. The Rangers are never afraid to take big swings in free agency, despite the fact that they’ve signed some of the worst contracts in NHL history.

My love for the Rangers is intertwined with my affinity for history. Mark Messier broke the team’s 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994; in the early ’90s, Alexei Kovalev wore white skates in a similar style to fellow Russian star Sergei Fedorov; not to mention New York was the last franchise that Wayne Gretzky played for.

The 1994 Stanley Cup winners even had a University of Toronto connection behind the bench with head coach Mike Keenan. A decade prior, Keenan led the Varsity Blues men’s hockey team to our most recent national championship.

Here’s a fun late ’90s story from Rangers lore that sums up the Blueshirts experience. Fittingly enough, it happened the year of my birth.

In July 1997, longtime Rangers captain Mark Messier — the greatest player in Rangers history — departed New York to join the Vancouver Canucks. His exit left a 36-year-old Gretzky as the team’s best centre.

Desperately in need of youth to play alongside Kovalev and ensure any possibility of contending for a Stanley Cup, the Rangers signed star Colorado Avalanche centre Joe Sakic to a three-year, $21 million USD offer sheet — a deal that would pay him a $15 million USD signing bonus up-front.

The Avalanche was a small-market team that could not financially compete with New York, and relied on a fortuitous outcome to ensure that Sakic wouldn’t play for the Rangers.

Then owned by Ascent Entertainment Group, the Avalanche fell back on on profits from the 1997 blockbuster Air Force One to sign Sakic; the team’s primary owner Charlie Lyons had produced the film with his production company Beacon Pictures.

To sum it all up, Harrison Ford prevented New York from solidifying their future.

And while it would’ve been cool to see Sakic in a Rangers uniform, 36-year-old Gretzky still managed to lead New York to 91 points, fifth-best in the league for the 1997–1998 season. It’s no wonder they call him ‘the Great One.’

Why I root for the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017

Why I root for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Canada’s game is back and, for a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, this season couldn’t come soon enough! Growing up in a hockey-centred household and being from Toronto, I was raised a Toronto Maple Leafs fan but soon discovered the joy in team rivalry. My brother and I have been fans of the Penguins for as long as I can remember. From collecting hockey cards to playing street hockey and not missing a single play, you could say that hockey became less of a game and more of an identity for me.

The Penguins have had a rough start to the 2018–2019 season and are currently in last place in the Eastern Conference. Here in Toronto, my dad doesn’t hesitate to remind me that the Leafs are in second, with 14 wins and six losses.

There’s plenty for Penguins fans to be optimistic about, though. The team is led by star captain Sidney Crosby, and only a few years prior, in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins became the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 19 years.

I have no doubt that our time is coming soon and that the cup will once again be held by the Penguins. Sharing in your team’s victory and having bragging rights is hands down the best feeling as a fan. But all that aside, I think that love for a team goes deeper than the jersey you wear to moments you share with fellow fans. The ability to celebrate a team as fans and stand connected through our love for the game is why I truly believe that hockey is a game that unites people.

Why I root for the Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks almost won the Stanley Cup in 2011

Why I root for the Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks were in Game 7 in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, facing off against their archrivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had tormented the Canucks for the past two years, defeating them in the second round of the 2009 and 2010 playoffs in six games both times.

But this year was different for the Canucks. They won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best record in the regular season, while Chicago barely snuck into the playoffs and found themselves pitted against the top-seeded Canucks in the first round.

The series started off well, as the Canucks took a commanding 3–0 lead. However, Vancouver was blown out in Games 4 and 5, and Chicago won Game 6 in overtime to send the series to Game 7. “Here we go again,” was the mindset of every Canucks fan.

Early in the first period, Alex Burrows scored a one-timer off a great pass from Ryan Kesler to give the Canucks an early 1–0 lead. However, for the remainder of regulation, Chicago’s rookie goaltender Corey Crawford stood on his head to keep his team within one. With three minutes and 17 seconds left in regulation, Chicago took a penalty. It looked like the Canucks would have a great chance at getting the insurance marker, or at the very least, they would be able to take two minutes off the clock.

In typical fashion, though, that isn’t what happened. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored shorthanded to take the game to overtime.

The stage was set for the best regular season in Canucks history to end in the first round, especially with Burrows taking a penalty early in overtime. With the man advantage, Toews set up a perfect centring pass for Patrick Sharp right in front of the crease, but Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo slid across to make the save.

Around five minutes into overtime, Chicago defenseman Chris Campoli made what looked to be a routine breakout pass, but it was intercepted by Burrows. He walked into the slot and fired a shot over the right shoulder of Crawford to win the game for Vancouver. The Canucks bench all came onto the ice to mob Burrows.

Towels were waving across the stands of Rogers Arena. “Finally,” CBC commentator Jim Hughson exclaimed. “After three seasons and 19 playoff games against Chicago, for Vancouver, it’s a wonderful day for an exorcism.”

Why I root for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews represents a new era for the Leafs

Why I root for the Toronto Maple Leafs

With the Toronto Maple Leafs full of young talent and viewed as a top contender to win the Stanley Cup, fans have a lot to be excited about.

This feeling of enthusiasm is an unfamiliar one, as adrenaline-filled moments for Leafs fans prior to this year were few and far between.

Nevertheless, this has made the moments that were cause for celebration even more memorable.

Growing up as an avid Leafs fan, one of my first moments was watching my hero, Leafs centre Mats Sundin, net his 500th career goal in dramatic fashion.

With the game tied 4–4 in overtime, Sundin, already with two goals on the night, picked up the puck at the Leafs blue-line, raced down the ice, and unleashed a slapshot over the shoulder of Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and into the back of the net.

A fitting entrance to the exclusive 500-goal-club for a Toronto sports legend.

A more recent memory that stands out is Leafs star Auston Matthews’ unforgettable first game.

In the 2016–2017 season opener, all eyes were on the rookie phenom. After scoring two goals in the first period, Leafs fans around the country erupted in celebration of our newest star.

But then, the unthinkable happened.

Matthews continued his offensive explosion, scoring a third goal early in the second period for the hat-trick. Already breaking records as the first top-ranked draft pick to score a hat-trick in his debut, Matthews scored another goal in the second, making him the first player in league history to score four goals in their regular season NHL debut.

Although these memories are great, nothing would be more memorable than the Leafs bringing Lord Stanley home to Toronto.