It was just one more game in the drumbeat of a hybrid schedule cobbled together by the National Hockey League during this season of COVID-19.
And yet, for Anthony Bitetto, it was so much more.
Bitetto was playing just his second game for the Rangers. It was one he will never forget.
Bitetto is a Long Island native, who grew up in Island Park, N.Y., rooting for the Rangers, seeing himself in his mind’s eye, dashing up and down the ice at Madison Square Garden. It is a scene played out over and over in driveways and streets all over the island, kids dreaming of playing in the NHL.
It took a while for that dream to become reality for Bitetto but then, it happened for him.
Bitetto’s hockey voyage had stops all over the map, from college hockey at Northeastern to minor league stops at Milwaukee and Cincinnati before reaching the NHL with Nashville where he played parts of five seasons. Then it was on to Minnesota for a brief stint and then a one-season stop in Winnipeg last year. All along though, that boyhood dream of playing for the Rangers remained in the back of his mind.
Last October, he became a free agent and signed a two-way contract with the Rangers. Assigned to the taxi squad, he waited for the call while New York’s blueline corps sorted itself out. There were injuries to Brenden Smith and Jack Johnson and then Tony DeAngelo got into hot water and was waived. And now, Anthony Bitetto, at age 30, was thrust into the lineup.
The Garden was empty because of COVID restrictions but Bitetto relished the moment he stepped on the ice for his first game. He called it amazing. What happened in his next one, against the Washington Capitals was even more amazing.
He found himself in the Caps’ zone with the puck on his stick. He circled the Washington net, continuing to stickhandle as coach David Quinn on the Rangers bench wondered just what the defenseman was up to, and then Bitetto unloaded a backhanded shot that nestled in the Washington net.
Bitetto said he was speechless when he stepped on the ice as a Ranger for the first time. Scoring a goal in his second game, well he said that moment was magical. The goal was the third of his career and his first since 2017-18 when he was with Nashville.
It was a moment he had dreamed of growing up on Long Island. It was a moment he will remember forever.