OTTAWA – We can talk all we want about this year’s New York Rangers, but I think the All-Star game sums all the buzz up quite nicely. The All-Star Game is a celebration of hockey, but for any Ranger fan, it was also a celebration of how far the Rangers have come since the end of their run last season. This year, they are not just the team to beat, they are the team to be. And they got represented by an all-star coach in John Tortorella, an assistant captain, all-star goaltender and a GM all rolled into one in Henrik Lundqvist, an all-star defenseman in Dan Girardi, the fastest skater in the NHL in Carl Hagelin, and the MVP of the All-Star Game in Marian Gaborik.
The weekend started with rivalries tossed aside. Most rivalries, anyway, or at least the ones New Yorkers care about. Fans of Ottawa Senators booed anyone from the Maple Leafs in the vicinity of the puck, and Team Chara refused to draft anyone from Vancouver, but Henrik Lundqvist picked Claude Giroux, a Philadelphia Flyer, as his fourth pick, and Kris Letang, a Pittsburgh Penguin, as his fifth. By the end of the draft, Team Alfredsson had most of the All-star players of the Rangers’ Atlantic Division rivals, along with a little wood thrown on the fire of the newest, All-Star rivalry – that between Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik.
A few days before the All-Star Game, Gaborik tweeted that he hoped to play against Lundqvist, who granted him that wish with a cherry on top – Gaborik would play against him and Dan Girardi. “I’m looking forward to playing against Danny, but, most importantly, it’s going to be a fun challenge to play against Hank. Hopefully, we win the game and he’s going to get lit up,” said Gaborik on Friday preceding the competitions. When asked to make a prediction as to how many goals he’ll put past his teammate, he said, “Hopefully, I’ll be fortunate to get a couple of goals.” And that’s a man of his word.
And then there was Carl Hagelin, a late addition to the Rangers roster, the All-Star roster, and nothing short of incredible. Fastest of ten, Hagelin won the title of the NHL Fastest Skater, finishing the course in 13.218 seconds in the final round of the competition, beating the Ottawa rookie Colin Greening. I caught up with Carl Hagelin (good thing it wasn’t on the ice, otherwise that would’ve never happened), in the corridor of Scotiabank Place. No one seemed to know who he was. “Just like in New York,” he said, smiling.
The first three minutes of the game were pretty dull. The teams were testing each other out, the arena was quiet, and the spectators were longing for excitement. And then there it was – courtesy of the New York Rangers. Right after scoring his first goal against his teammate Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik channeled another teammate, making “The Anisimov” a New York Rangers registered trademark. Lucky for him, none of the players of Team Alfredsson took offense. Without a game misconduct, Gaborik was able to net another one against Lundqvist, and was quicker than Quick with his third, only eighty three seconds into the second period. From that moment on, Daniel Alfredsson, the building favorite, had his work to get the MVP title cut out for him.
Carl Hagelin, a spectator for the night, had a few things to say about his valuable teammate. “I’ve been playing with Gaborik the last couple of games, and it’s pretty amazing how good he is. He was one of my favorite players when I was growing up, and now it’s fun for him to finally get the MVP. He’s a real sniper, but, as you can see, he can pass as well.” Interesting choice of words there, Carl. “We make fun of Artie about that all the time, especially Gabby, and I think that Artie loved it back home, and he would probably say that he feels free. That’s his favorite quote – he says ‘when you score goals, you feel free’.”
With Henrik Lundqvist’s tweet “Need to sign Marian Gaborik for life in NY,” the newest rivalry has been retired. Or has it? “Henrik is so competitive, he’s going to be mad for a week!” said Carl Hagelin. “So probably Gabby won’t score on him in practice for another week.”
As long as he scores during games – that’s all that matters.