I was in New York this week for work, and was lucky enough to catch game 4 of the Rangers/Devils series at Madison Square Garden. This was the first NHL playoff game I've seen in person since the Jets left way back in '96, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
The Garden itself is pretty amazing, and the fans and energy of New York just add that much more. There are several cool little traditions that I had no idea existed before I went, which were a joy to discover. I won't detail them all (you can read about them here), but my favorite is the song they all sing after each Rangers goal, followed closely by the "Potvin Sucks!" chant that at the time seemed random. I just love that people are still pooping on a guy that has been retired for 20 years for an incident that happened 30 years ago. Great stuff.
Now, was it as glorious as the playoff games I watched the Jets play back at the Winnipeg Arena in the 90's? No, but it couldn't possibly be. First off, I was in my teens back then, and things like using up a deodorant stick seemed like monumental events. Second off, the white-outs were ridiculously awesome, and ridiculously loud. If you showed up at school the next day with anything resembling your normal voice it meant you weren't really at the game.
But mostly the games back then were better because I cared so much more about who won the game. I read every Jets article in the newspaper every day. I spent more time studying box scores and leader boards than I did doing homework. I watched almost every game that came on TV (the Jets didn't get on TV all that often), and listened to many more on the radio in my room as I pretended to sleep (called marvelously by Curt Keilback).
But once the Jets left, my interest in the NHL declined. I'm still a fan, but now I mostly scan the headlines in the Sports section. I don't even glance at box scores or leaderboards, and honestly don't really know who is in what place in their division until the last week or so of the season. I don't even follow the scoring leaders anymore, despite my annual hockey pool.
Now don't get me wrong: I still love NHL hockey. I watch a few games on TV throughout the year, and I probably watch about 50 games over the course of the playoffs. But with no rooting interest, the results and stats have lost a lot of meaning. After the Jets left I hated the Coyotes. I resented them for leaving, and wanted nothing more than for them to fail badly. Thankfully they did just that, sparing me the fate so many Nordiques fans have tortuously endured.
If I wanted to really feel involved, I needed a team of my own. I had a brief fling with Buffalo during their couple strong years at the end of the decade, but that didn't stick. I tried to like the Canadiens during my 6 month stint in Montreal, but that died out soon after I left. Burned twice by brief flings, I swore off false allegiances and have since simply rooted for teams that played a fun style or had players I liked.
Unfortunately the ramification of this hockey chastity is that I never really get swept up in the games or series' anymore. Sometimes I will really want a specific team to lose (like Devils because I will hate them forever for inventing the trap), but mostly I just watched passively and marveled at individual plays or displays of skill. The only games that remind me of the old days are international games involving Team Canada, but those are few and far between.
So with all of this said, after enjoying a great time at MSG and being quite impressed by the fans and their traditions, is it time to give another team a chance? Should I adopt the Rangers as my new favorite NHL team?