The pandemic forced the NHL to end its season in two hubs in Canada, Edmonton and Toronto.
For the Rangers, spending a long time in Canada will be something of a return in the late 1960s, when the team regularly headed there to train, keeping the camp in Kitchener, Ontario, one hour from Toronto.
Back then, the team and the league were much more Canadian. All Rangers were Canadian – in fact, there were years in the 1960s when everyone in the league was too.
Competition was fierce. Only 18 players created the team: 16 “skaters” and two goalkeepers. Now, a team can have up to 23 players on the roster and must bring at least 20. There were only six teams in the league, compared to 31 now – so less than 120 players from all over Canada could call themselves great – League players.
Those rangers brought 70 players to the field, including 70 players, including minors. Today? Half. The minimum wage for those rangers was $ 10,000. Today it costs $ 700,000 – 70 times more.
The Rangers practiced at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, a 5,000-seat bandbox in the shape of an amphitheater of cockfights. Upon their return to Canada this month, they will remain in Toronto and train on local tracks, but not in Maple Leafs’ Scotiabank Arena.
In Kitchener, they stayed at the local Holiday Inn, two in one room. But the players were comfortable there. They enjoyed dinners at Pig’s Tail. They had come from places like Kapuskasing or Moose Jaw, playing in junior clubs in arenas like Kitchener’s. In fact, Ontario still has dozens of these tracks. When the Rangers practiced, the old men showed up wearing their youth’s hockey jackets – with the names “Krauts” or “Tigers” sewn on the back.
Hockey isn’t just Canada’s sport, it’s his passion.
When the millennium was looming over 20 years ago, the Dominion Institute questioned Canadians about what they considered the most important event in their history. First came the Confederation – and sixth was Canada’s involvement in World War II. Fifth? It was the defeat on the ice of the Soviet Union in the so-called “Summit series” of 1972.
As I reflect on those Kitchener fields, I think about how he shaped these young people into a team. After all, there is nothing natural about being a New Yorker. Just because they swap you there, or the team signs you, that doesn’t mean you have to love the place.
In fact, when Bob Nevin was swapped with the Rangers from Toronto, he thought “it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” Nevin adapted. A two-way right wing went on with a solid career and became the team captain – and one of the few players who actually had an apartment in Manhattan.
But when the players entered the Kitchener arena, at one end was a 15-foot portrait of Queen Elizabeth. On the other hand there was a sign: “Bingo Friday night”. Just like home.
The 2020 Rangers are from Canada, okay, as are Boxford, Massachussets, Cherepovets in Russia and, of course, Huddinge, Sweden.
I suspect that living in a crazy hockey country, even for a short time, will influence these 2020 Rangers in ways that Westchester practice can’t.
Where hockey players in New York would be happy has always been problematic.
Francis – born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan – wanted them out of New York City, with his temptations, during the regular season. He liked the quiet town of Long Beach, New York, not only as a place to live, but also as a place to train. It is a seaside resort, with a lot of accommodation available at the end of the summer. In 1975, he finished training Rangers in Canada and took them to Long Beach, where most players lived during the season.
But when the Garden was taken over by Broadway and Hollywood agent David A. (Sonny) Werblin, this changed dramatically. Werblin had been Elizabeth Taylor’s agent, for example. He was a boy who liked celebrity. When Werblin was president of the Jets, he was obsessed with the image of Joe Namath, indeed, he helped cultivate it.
“I want my kids to live in New York,” said Werblin, taking charge of the Garden. “I want hockey players to mix with fans. I want them to be seen. “
He pulled them out of Long Beach and encouraged them to move to the city. In 1978, he got a training facility in Rye, New York, Westchester County, where they continue to train. Many players moved to Manhattan or Westchester.
In the eight years that Francis had brought them to train in Kitchener, the Rangers won 55 percent of their games. Over the next eight years, training in Long Beach and Rye, they only captured 45 percent of their games. Was it a cause and effect, personnel changes, coaching changes? Canadian air?
And now, for the moment, they will be surrounded in Canada. Of course, it will still be the New York Rangers. And for many of them, Canada will be the unknown country. How are these New Yorkers going to do up there?