How to do a Rangers game the right way
While the North American hockey teams don’t have similar supporter sections or cheerleaders like teams in Europe, it doesn’t mean there’s no fan tradition in the NHL.
For example, everybody knows the octopuses have been flying onto the ice in Detroit since the 1950s. Each team has its special traditions, and the older the team, the more traditions and legends there are, both in the rink and also in the stands.
All through the 1970s and 80s, the superfan was a man called “Chief”*, a superfan who wore a Native American headdress, and tried to get as close to the team as possible, as chronicled in Ratso Sloman’s “Thin Ice”, an excellent book on the 1979-80 Rangers.
Even though Madison Square Garden seats over 18,000, the true fans form a family that lives and dies by the Rangers. Like ScottyHockey, an affable man, who wants to see the Rangers win the Stanley Cup, but who also holds “his” Rangers to such a high standard that nothing short of winning the Cup will do. Especially if he thinks the players are floating. New Yorkers love effort.
ScottyHockey–or @ScottyHockey on Twitter is famous for his rants, his criticism of the team. (Yes, Scotty does have a real last name, but so do, for example, Bono and Sting, and nobody calls them by their full name, do they?)
Scotty will tell you how a Ranger game is supposed to be taken in. It all comes down to preparation, which is why a 7pm game starts a lot earlier than that for fans and players alike.
Maybe you want to get ready for the game with a pint of beer and a good hamburger. You’re most likely to bump into Scotty at the Flying Puck, a sports bar just a block from the Garden.
“The Flying Puck gets quite packed with Ranger fans both before and after the games. They have the game on, with audio, on the televisions inside if you don't land a ticket,” Scotty says.
How to get a glimpse of the stars
Maybe you want to catch Mats Zuccarello walking into the Madison Square Garden, or see when Henrik Lundqvist’s Maserati hits the ramp to the parking garage.
“Since the Rangers do not live together in one spot, they don't all arrive at MSG the same way and in the same location. There are basically two main places to grab them and they are on the 31st and the 33rd street, both in the middle of the blocks,” Scotty says.
“Lundqvist and a few others simply drive into the building itself, and drive out the ramp after the game. Apparently he will sign a few autographs before speeding away. Several other players, including Zuccarello, come out the VIP entrance at 4 Penn on 31st Street. A few players come out the front, through the breezeway, but not too many.”
However, he adds that Henrik Lundqvist rarely, if ever, stops for photos or autographs on nights he starts. “The King is intense!”
The MSG doors open an hour before the start of the game, and it is recommended that you head in that early to take in some of the many features that the building has to offer. Also, the level of security has increased in the last few years, so be prepared to have your bags inspected - often you are asked to remove keys, wallets, and cell phones from your pockets and take off your hat. The warmups do not start until a half hour before puck drop so you have time to check out the arena stores, get some food or find your way upstairs to walk across the bridges and take in the unique view.
The corners of the lower bowl are kept off limits for warm-ups as well as sections behind the nets if you don’t have a ticket for a seat in that section, but sections 104-109 and 115-119, the longer side, are open for you to get closer to the ice to get a good view of the guys as they get their legs going.
“Henrik Lundqvist will spend a good portion of it doubled over in the neutral zone, focusing on the impending deluge. Mats Zuccarello is always the last Ranger off the ice,” Scotty says.
Warm-ups run for 15 minutes, starting a half hour before puck drop so you have 15 minutes to find your seats, grab some food, or stop at a bathroom after they conclude.
The players are getting ready, and so should you, because when it’s game time, you’re a part of the experience, too.
As the clock winds down towards puck drop, they play a video on the scoreboard explaining "Rangerstown" before the public announcer does his bit: “Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena. Tonight we have a Original Six/Eastern Conference/Metropolitan Division matchup between [VISITING TEAM] and your New York Rangers."
“After [VISITING TEAM] you boo, and after ‘your New York Rangers’, you cheer,” Scotty says.
Once the teams return to the ice to start the game, the American (and the Canadian, if a Canadian team is playing) national anthem is sung.
“Longtime Garden institution John Amirante has mostly been replaced with a variety of singers, from Broadway stars to recording artists, and school choirs. The crowd doesn’t usually not sing along to either anthem, but the American anthem is regularly punctuated with a ‘LET'S GO RANGERS!’ yell after ‘at the twilight's last gleaming’ and ‘were so gallantly streaming’,” says ScottyHockey.
When to cheer
There are no familiar fan sections, as American sport does not segregate their fans, and there is no singing throughout play. But that does not mean that they are completely quiet.
“The crowd will chant "Let's Go Rangers!" after particularly impressive shifts. Great saves by Henrik Lundqvist are honored with "HEN-RIK, clap-clap", and great plays by Mats Zuccarello will result in a low "ZUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCC" being released into the air
“Goals by Carl Hagelin could result in a random yell of "BORK, BORK, BORK!" - a reference to the Swedish Chef in the Muppets, a tradition that was started by the University of Michigan fans during his time there,” Scotty says.
Of course, after each Ranger goal, they play the goal song, and the crowd yells the “HEY! HEY! HEY, HEY, HEY!” part in the song.
Sometimes the Garden will erupt in “Potvin sucks” chants, which both amuses and bemuses Scotty.
“Sadly it gets done most every game, when it is only appropriate against the Islanders, Denis Potvin’s former team and the Florida Panthers who he works for now as a broadcast analyst,” he says.
And in the third period, during the last TV timeout, Black Box’s “Strike It Up” is played, and the camera finds Dancing Larry in section 223. Larry has been doing his dance since the mid-1990s, when the Chief retired.
“Ranger fans are particularly passionate, so a regular stream of expletives can be expected,” Scotty adds.
A post-game talk, a victory drink or a meal can be had back at the Flying Puck, or at Jack Doyle’s on the 35th street.
After the game, you’ll find Scotty standing outside the Madison Square Garden, wearing one of dozens of hockey jerseys he owns. Don’t be surprised if it’s a Frölunda Indians one.
*) Chief’s real name was Robert Comas
**) Dancing Larry's real name is Larry Goodman
Want to get a Lundqvist/Zuccarello/Hagelin/Fast/Nash jersey?
If you are looking to buy basic Ranger t-shirts, check out the Modell's on the corner of 34th and 7th or the one at Herald Square before you come to the Garden - better prices with a different selection.
Another good place to check out is the NHL Store on 6th Avenue between 46th and 47th Street; they feature merchandise from all of the league's teams but the prices are a little bit higher.
Cosby’s, the historical supplier of Ranger jerseys that used to be located in the breezeway in front of MSG is now over on 31st between 6th and 7th Avenues.
Text: Risto Pakarinen