Rangers/Islanders had that winter feel of a Subway baseball Series in the Bronx

By Rich Mancuso

They got off the 4 train 161st Street stop these fans of two New York hockey teams, the Rangers and Islanders and on their mission to spend the evening at a frigid Yankee Stadium. Yes, this was similar to a hockey version of the Yankees playing the Mets in mid-May or sometime in June.

Except the vendors inside Yankee Stadium were not selling cold drinks. Hot chocolate and coffee was the big seller. There were blankets covering the fans, gloves, scarfs, and their faces were covered from the frigid temperatures that dropped below 20.

Yes, for a night in the Bronx, in late January, Yankee Stadium was a winter wonderland.  The puck dropped on the ice and it was nice to say that in about 65 days the stadium would once again hear the sounds of “Play Ball” when the Yankees open the 2014 baseball season in the Bronx with high expectations.  

The National Hockey League concept of “The Stadium Series” drew over 100,000 rabid fans of the Rangers, Islanders and New Jersey Devils for two games in the Bronx.  The say this successful venture, one that has high marketability for the NHL will continue, though next year there is reportedly a plan to do this again at another venue.

Met Life Stadium, site of the Super Bowl this Sunday, reportedly will get to play host of the “Stadium Series” in the New York area next January.  Why not? It is evident now that fans will come and root no matter what the weather conditions are in the height of winter.

“To our fans who were here both Sunday and tonight, simply,” incredible commented NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who was all smiles. And he should be smiling. The NHL gained some revenue and more exposure. The Yankees were thrilled to keep their stadium busy in the off-season.

Wednesday night in the “House That George Built” it was frigid. However, the fans were loud, more of a Rangers presence as their team completed the two game sweep over the Devils and Islanders.  And at times, with the exception of the colors and an infield as a hockey rink, the ballpark resembled an October baseball playoff game in the Bronx.

About playing outdoors, where most professional hockey players got their start, Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov said, “You never really know until you’re out there and see that great atmosphere. I loved every second of it.”

And that was the overall consensus of the players, coaches, and the fans, the cold did not seem to be a factor. However, the one difference with playing an NHL game outdoors is the conspicuous absence of the hockey fight or brawl on the ice. As the experts explained, the game does not change.

But taking a punch in the cold elements is not a good idea for a hockey player, or for that matter any one.  The sting hurts a little more to the body outdoors in frigid conditions.  So, there were no fights on the ice, rather a good and competitive hockey game with the two New York rivals.

“We’re playing well enough to win, but we’ve got to find a way to win,” said Islanders coach Jack Capuano after 2-1 loss to their Blueshirt rival Rangers. His team is 0-3-1 in the past four games. And like the game of baseball, where the Yankees are accustomed to winning in the Bronx, not getting a win in four games means a lot in the standings.

Because in the game of hockey, a stretch of not winning games in a competitive division where the Islanders, Rangers and Devils are situated, can be crucial. In this case, the Islanders did not prevail in what was their home game, away from the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale.

The Islanders got the shots, but Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped a good many of them. The Rangers and their fans are content getting the road win. Their team has won five consecutive games away from Madison Square Garden and prevailed in 13 of their last 19 on the ice.

“They’re a ton of fun,” said the Rangers defenseman Marc Staal who got a feel of outdoor hockey before huge crowds the past few days in the Bronx. He said he could play in fifty or, 40 of these games during the course of a season. 

The National Hockey League scheduled more of the outdoor games in stadiums this season including the “Winter Classic.” They are all popular and now New York got caught up in the atmosphere in a week busy with the premiere game in town, the Super Bowl.

You get the feeling the outdoor game will return to the Bronx soon. The overall consensus is, hockey fans in New York are all for it.

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