(Host) The National Hockey League season begins next month, but fans can get a look at some of the game’s biggest stars Monday night. The New York Rangers hold their annual Blue-White intersquad game at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Field House.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb was at the rink for Monday’s practice session.
(Coach Tom Renney, talking to players) “If there’s a rebound, you go get your puck. The second guy’s gonna come in and he’s gonna support you somehow. But in a good location to get a pass, he’ll get it back to you, and then get it back for a shot.”
(Wertlieb) New York Rangers Assistant Coach Tom Renney ran a fast-moving session of drills Monday morning on day five of the Rangers’ 2003 training camp, emphasizing crisp passing and second-shot opportunities to his squad. In the stands about 30 people, most of them decked out in Rangers jerseys, watched as the players sprinted around the ice and took booming slap shots. Some in the crowd had traveled pretty far, like 8-year old Patrick Sullivan, who made the trip with his parents from Hazelton, Pennsylvania, basically to see one player on the team:
(Sullivan) “We’re actually Eric Lindros fans. We just move teams whenever he switches.”
(Wertlieb) These days, the NHL consists of 30 teams throughout Canada and the U.S., expanding in recent years to such unlikely locales as Nashville and Tampa, Florida. But the Rangers are an “original six” club with a storied history dating back to its inaugural season in 1926.
UVM Associate Director of Athletics Jeff Schulman says the Rangers’ history with UVM started around 1996, when the Hartford Whalers moved to Carolina to become the Hurricanes, leaving a window of opportunity for the Rangers:
(Schulman) “We had been hosting the Hartford Whalers for, I think three years here in Burlington. And the Whalers stopped coming and the Rangers heard that the Whalers had a really good experience here and contacted us one summer, I think it was late July or early August about coming that September. And we told them we were really interested in having them, and they came up the next day and we showed them around the facilities and that’s how it all began.”
(Host) Former Boston Bruins forward and head coach Terry O’Reilly is now in his second year as an assistant coach with the Rangers. He says Burlington has been a frequent stopover during his years traveling from Boston to Ontario in the off-season. He says UVM is the perfect place for the Rangers to get ready for the season:
(O’Reilly) “It’s a great facility. It’s a much quieter, slower pace than New York City, and it gives us a chance – the five days that we’re here – it gives the younger players a chance to get to know the veterans. I think usually after this Blue-White game, the captains take the whole group out and it’s a chance for them to bond and start to feel a part of the Rangers organization.”
(Wertlieb) And it’s not always easy being a part of the Rangers organization. Along with the pressure that comes from playing in one of the largest media markets in the country, there’s the Rangers reputation, especially in recent years, of spending big bucks on team payroll with very little to show for it. In fact, the Rangers have failed to make the playoffs for six straight years, despite having such high profile stars as Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure on the team.
Current Rangers defenseman Darius Kasparitis is a native of Lithuania and an 11-year NHL veteran. He’s aware of the expectations and the media spotlight, which he says just comes with the territory when you play in New York:
(Kasparitis) “You know it doesn’t matter where you go, you know – Vermont, Bangkok – you know. It’s just New York, that’s what happens when you play in New York. You pay the price, you have to compete, and you have to be on top of your game because if you can make it in New York you can make it everywhere.”
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Mitch Wertlieb.
(Host) The New York Rangers’ annual Blue-White intersquad game at UVM begins at 6:30 Monday night. Tickets are available at the box office.