It’s 29.5 miles from Elmont, NY to Newark, and this short corridor in the United States houses three of the NHL’s 32 teams: the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders, soon moving from their crumbling Long Island home to Elmont. are the ones. Uniondale.
With this overabundance of hockey—about 10 percent of the NHL—the New York metropolitan area must be hockey-crazy. But there have at times been a problematic relationship between hockey and the Big Apple and its surroundings, and this has been one of those times.
Rangers? They have missed three playoffs out of the last four years. They last hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1994, ending a 54-year drought and drowning out those bad Islanders fans who chanted “1940!” Used to chant To commemorate the last Rangers championship.
Satan? Their legacy is in the rearview mirror, having failed to make the playoffs in eight of the past nine years after losing in the 2012 finals, and having suffered three straight losing seasons. It is the return of the team that captured three Stanley Cups, their last cup in the 2002–3 season.
islanders? not bad. A playoff team past three campaigns, and still the holder of an impressive record: they are the last major North American sports team to win four straight championships, which they capped in the 1982–83 season.
What made that record even more special was that, at the time of its inception, 10 years earlier, they had compiled the most losses of any team in NHL history.
Now stretching from Long Island to midtown Manhattan to New Jersey is a vast wasteland of broken sticks, dirty towels and pointless skates. Take the devils. In his current nine-year run of despair, his fans at home have him winning almost 55 percent of his half-games. Not much better on the other side of the Hudson, where the Rangers have won Madison Square Garden fans 55 percent of the time over the past four years.
But in these three previous playoff years the Islanders have performed exceptionally well at home, capturing 71 percent of their games. It may take some time for them to move forward this season, though – they play their first 13 games on the road and won’t be in their new arena until the end of November. The Islands are a very good road team, having captured about 55 percent of their away games in these past three years. They could have ended the season reliably, as 41 of their final 69 games are at home and their fans have already bought 15,000 season tickets.
Being a team from New York or New Jersey and rushing to bail on your own must be a strange feeling that happens when this trio visits each other. When the Islanders were created in 1972, and the Rangers met them at the Coliseum, the roar for the Rangers was louder than on the islands. After all, hockey fans on Long Island grew up as followers of Ranger. Now, of course, Islander fans can’t stand the Rangers. The idea of not being too far away from where you play is unusual. One cannot imagine, say, the Bruins being incarcerated if they went to Wellesley, 16 miles from Boston.
How is it like performing for all three teams? Eleven players can claim that, and John VanBiesbruck, a goalkeeper, was the best ever.
“It’s definitely weird,” said 58-year-old VanBiesbruck, when asked about being a guest player just a few miles from his home base. “Each team handled itself differently.”
He recalled the differences between the arenas – the Nassau Coliseum was “a tough place to play, a very raucous crowd. The Devils didn’t have a large number of fans who were anti-Ranger.”
VanBiesbruck, a Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goalscorer in 1986 when he was with the Rangers, is now the Assistant Executive Director in charge of global affairs for USA Hockey. Much of his career was spent with the Rangers – nine full seasons beginning in 1983. He then played for the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers before returning to New York – this time for the Islanders in 2001. He was traded later that season. Devils, for whom he played an extra year.
“I would say the Devils and the Islanders definitely have a rivalry with the Rangers, but not so much,” he said. “The rivalry builds on the playoffs, and both teams of Rangers have epic battles in the playoffs.”
Rangers continue their quest for stability these days: Gerard Gallant will be their 11th coach since they captured the Stanley Cup in 1994.
There has been even more turmoil in The Devils: Lindy Ruff, who took over last season, is the club’s 14th coach since winning the Cup in 2003. Although his resume is impressive.
And this island? Although they keep changing owners, they have been the most stable franchise of the three in terms of head coach and construction speed on the ice. Barry Trotz has been behind the bench for the past three seasons – the 16th coach since the team’s last championship in 1983 (Al Arbor, their cup-winning coach). who died in 2015, came back twice).
Hockey in the New York area remains in flux now that the archipelago, who fled to Brooklyn, is back on Long Island and will soon be in their new home. This brings to mind the difficulty that the creators of these three teams had in giving a name to their hockey clubs. Let’s face it – naming a hockey team in metropolitan New York doesn’t come naturally to, say, naming the Toronto team the Maple Leafs, or the Montreal The Canadiens, or the Vancouver the Canucks. Calgary Flames? Well, they actually started life in Atlanta and simply nicknamed, Calgary had nothing to do with the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War.
The Devils were actually the Colorado Rockies, a nomadic team that couldn’t get fans out west in their birthplace, Kansas City, Mo., or their adopted home. When they were planning to move to New Jersey, the question of a name arose. There is a mythical creature believed to live in the New Jersey Pine Barrens called the Jersey Devil. That name was proposed, but the Devils’ ownership feared it was opposed by the Catholic Church and the idea was abandoned – for a while. A statewide vote was called with a total of 11 names (including “patriots”). Ultimately, the Devils got the most votes.
For the Rangers, there was a fellow boxing promoter and head of Madison Square Garden in the 1920s—Domo Tex Ricard. So the newly created hockey team became Tex’s Rangers.
islanders? The owners wanted the name “New York”. Everyone wants to beat a team from New York, he explained. Plus it provides built-in marketing. The people and politicians of Nassau County wanted “Long Island”—after all, they were building them an arena. Eventually, as a nod to Long Island, they became the New York Islanders – maintaining the identity of the big city along with the Long Island connection.
Now, at the end of November, they will once again return to Long Island when their arena is ready. It’s likely that fans will give him a warm welcome, not like the dismayed Ranger fans who treated their heroes in the early 1960s, when a player raved about booing, and their homes in the suburbs. “Playing at Madison Square Garden is like playing in street sports.”
The irony of hockey players playing in the Big Apple environment is that they are on the road even when they are closer to home.