There is a saying, “Home is where the heart is.” As I write this, I’m home in Florida, after being away for a while. Places have changed, but the memories have remained. The same could be said for the seven New York Ranger Olympians. The NHL regular season stopped February ninth, due to the 22nd Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia. As the end of the Games nears, it is time to come home. For the seven beloved Rangers, Madison Square Garden is their sanctuary. Once again, the New York ice will welcome the Blueshirts. This time the team will not be divided by country, but unified under one city. The spotlight will shine for the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, and Carl Hagelin. However, others will play hero this time: Derrick Brassard, Brad Richards, Dan Girardi, and the countless others we have come to love over this season. Madison Square Garden, or simply the Garden, will come alive again with chants of “Let’s Go Rangers!” “HEN-RIK!” or “ZUUUUUUUUC!” But for those who have never been to or seen the arena, it’s hard to comprehend what it’s like. Let me share with you what makes the Garden “The World’s Most Famous Arena” for me.
Located on top of Pennsylvania Station, MSG sits between the intersections of Seventh and Eighth Avenues, occupying 31st to 33rd street in Manhattan. This is the fourth building to bear the name Madison Square Garden. Opening February 11, 1968, it is considered the oldest hockey venue in the NHL. It’s important to note that the Rangers did not initially start in the present building. As mentioned before, this is the fourth building to bear the MSG title. Originally founded in 1926, the hockey club played at Madison Square Garden, but the arena was located on 48th Street, near Times Square. From this, the nickname “The Broadway Blueshirts” was born and has stuck with Rangers’ fans through time.
Throughout the years, the arena has moved to different locations in Manhattan and has hosted some grand events. However, it is the connection to hockey that adds to the mystique. After moving into the present MSG in 1968, the Rangers saw rejuvenation in their game and new heroes were born. Eddie Giacomin and “Boom Boom” Bernie Geoffrion would lead the way for the team to become competitive again after years of mediocrity. In the 1970’s, it was the GAG line (Goal-A Game) of Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, and Rod Gilbert that led the surge. During these times, the hockey club would see success in the playoffs. However, heartbreaking losses and early exits would plague the “Blueshirts”. Thus, Madison Square Garden would not host the Stanley Cup Finals or see the coveted prize in the building for some time.
However, success found it’s way back to the famed building. 1994 was a magical year for the Ranger organization and fan base. Not in terms of hockey events, but the accomplishments that were attained. Players such as Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Jeff Beukeboom, Sergei Zubov, Alexi Kovalev invigorated the Garden and inspired a legion of Blueshirt diehards. The hockey club finished that year with the President’s Trophy, an award given to the team with the most points earned during the regular season. Along with that, the Rangers won the inaugural Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference Titles. Of course, this all ended with the Stanley Cup Finals where the MSG ice hosted Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks. It was a thrilling ride, culminating with Lord Stanley’s Cup finally entering the Garden for every fan to see. It had been 54 years since Madison Square Garden housed the cherished relic. As Sam Rosen said, “This one will last a lifetime.” And indeed it has.
Over the years, renovations have been made to the building to keep its beauty, while staying with the times. Starting in 1991, the Madison Square Garden Company embarked on a $200 million dollar improvement project of its facilities and added 89 suites. However, an even more aggressive project was started in 2011. A three-year, one billion dollar renovation was initiated; with, the project ending in 2013. “The Transformation,” as it was called, included many luxury items, not even thought of by the original architects.
Two of its biggest additions were a modern GardenVision jumbo tron and a unique, bird’s eye viewpoint known as the Chase Bridges. Running the full length of the ice where fans have the ability to watch a game from high-above the ice surface. Also, improvements such as new suites and food options give the arena a facelift that keeps up with the times. In a recent article on ESPN.com James Dolan describes why the renovation project was needed:
“We knew the world’s greatest fans deserved a complete state-of-the-art experience,” said James Dolan, the Garden’s executive chairman. “This true transformation is for everyone. We wanted our athletes to have upgraded locker rooms, training and video rooms. We wanted our entertainers to have the best dressing rooms, the best sound, the best lighting and acoustics.”
Here are some thoughts shared by Rangers fans of what Madison Square Garden means to them:
Ed Anderson (@AndersonEd27) has been a fan since 1972, being a season ticket holder from 1983-1997. Now, he attends 12-15 home games per season. He had this to share:
”(At) home I grew up (where) my father played for the New York Rovers in the (1950)’s. All I ever heard was the (G)arden this (G)arden that. So when I finally got a chance to go (to a game), it was like nothing else…I have been to just about every NHL arena there is (and) very few compare to the (G)arden. The atmosphere is just different in the (Garden)…it feels like its electricity.”
Allison (@Princes_in_NY) has been a fan since 2009, having attended Madison Square Garden four times this season. She described her feelings this way:
“MSG means to me the pride of my (Rangers) and the support of my fellow fans and the history of not only the Rangers but also the pride I’ve got for New York.”
Mike Monti (@MMonti13) has been a fan since he could remember, “(My) parents have pictures of me when I was not even 2, sitting in front of the tv watching (Rangers) games.” When asked his feelings about the Garden:
“MSG is my home away from home. It is the one place where I can be surrounded by 18,200 people and feel as comfortable with them as I do with my family. There is so much that someone can pick out as an iconic feature of the Garden, but the one thing for me, besides Dancing Larry would have to be the Potvin chat. If I am at a game and I do not hear that chant, I feel like I was cheated out of my MSG experience.”
Judson Kingman (@Judson217) has been a loyal fan since he was 7 years old. He tries to attend as many games, as possible. Here are his words about the Garden and its fans:
“Madison Square Garden means a lot. To me, even though the lower level has turned into a business type atmosphere, it is still a passionate building. I can’t think of a more perfect night being with friends watching the Rangers. You’ll find the best fans (in) the upper levels. They are the crazy blue bleeders. The building itself also holds some great history. 1994, of course, comes to mind. But, first and foremost, it’s about dedicated fans…probably the most passionate loyal fans in the NHL.”
Since the doors opened to the present Madison Square Garden arena , there have been several features that are only recognizable by Rangers fans. Ed Anderson, the long time Rangers fan, mentioned several aspects that made his experience unique. One worth mentioning was a person known as the Chief. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, he was the self-proclaimed Chief of the Rangers fans. During home games, he used to inspire the Garden faithful by leading them in the Let’s Go Rangers chants. Another Garden character was a person known as Fuzzy. For $10.00, he would sneak you into the old Blue Seats section of the Garden. There you could stand and take in the game. According to Ed, the old Blue Seats section was where “the real fans sat.” During this time, you could smoke in the arena. During intermission, the smokers gathered in the hallways and lit cigarettes, creating a fog-filled atmosphere in between the hallways. Nowadays, this is certainly banned and frowned upon.
Presently, the famous Garden character is Dancin’ Larry. Located in section 407, Larry Goodman, as he is known, can be seen dancing the night away when Strike It Up plays over the arena’s speakers. Fans know he is itching to get his dancing shoes on again.
The most famous, and unique feature of the Madison Square Garden fan experience is the famous “Potvin Sucks” chant. This chant is normally initiated after a fan whistles a few tunes. This tradition dates back to an incident in 1979. Denis Potvin, who was a defenseman for the New York Islanders, delivered a check to the boards on Rangers’ forward Ulf Nilsson, during a regular season game. Unfortunately, Nilsson would be injured and loss for the season. The Rangers’ fan base has never forgotten the event and the chant was born. Mainly, it was used as a counter to the Islanders fanbase’s chant of “1940.” To this day, the chant can be heard amongst the Garden fans of all generations.
As the NHL regular season restarts on February 26th, the boys of winter take to the ice once more. This time, a playoff berth is at stake. In each game, the stakes will be raised, points are not to be squandered, desperation will reign supreme. It should make for some exciting and anxious moments. For us, the Rangers Faithful, it means hockey is back in New York City. On February 27th, Madison Square Garden will host a second homecoming of the season, with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Finally, after two weeks of unrest and “withdrawals,” the Broadway Blueshirts are back and the anticipation has been overwhelming. The boys in blue will grace the Garden ice once again. This time, it’s not for country or a gold medal. It’s for, as Frank Sinatra once wrote, “…a city that never sleeps” and for a silver chalice that means everything to everybody in hockey. Perhaps, Madison Square Garden will see it once more. But no matter the end result, it is good to have the boys back. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”