Friday, August 1, 2008

These Are NOT Exhibition Games to Them

I grew up in Jackson Heights during the 1970's and one of the places I spent a lot of time at was the PS 148 playground just off of Northern Blvd and 89th St. During the summer it was a great place to play basketball or handball at.

On those courts the most important thing to earn was not a win but the respect of your peers for working hard. As long as one busted their butt win or lose they could always count on someone inviting them to play in the games.

When outsiders from other schoolyards or parks came down to play at "our park" then it became more than just a game. It became a life or death struggle of the most epic proportions as this was our house and everybody who played did not want the outsiders to win.

This was "our park", it was a symbol of where we lived so you were not just playing a game; you was playing for the entire neighborhood. It was no longer an issue of which group you hung out with; it was about representing the people of that park and neighborhood.

I bring this up for a reason because while the Rangers and the NHL are calling the games that the Rangers will be playing against SC Bern (September 30th) and Metallurg Magnitogorsk (October 1) as exhibition games; the game against Metallurg Magnitogorsk is being viewed as the first of an annual event.

That event is the Victoria Cup and for those in Europe the eventual goal is to get the NHL to send the defending Stanley Cup champions to play in it. Right now it is set up as a one game "winner takes all" event but the hope is for one day to become a best of 3 series.

If either the Rangers or their fans take these games lightly then there will be a very good chance that that the Rangers could wind up as losing not only the game but also face (respect) among European fans.

Talent wise the argument is that SC Bern and Metallurg Magnitogorsk are just about equals to the AHL but you have to toss that stuff out the window. These 2 games are going to be for these teams either about their version of the "Miracle on Ice" or some major propaganda for the KHL if the Rangers fail to defeat Metallurg Magnitogorsk for the Victoria Cup.

If you think I am kidding let me give you an idea about how important the Europeans are looking at the Victoria Cup from the words of IIHF President Rene Fasel:

This is a milestone for international hockey and for the relationship between the IIHF and the National Hockey League," said IIHF President René Fasel. "Ever since the historic game between the Montreal Canadiens and CSKA Moscow on New Year's Eve 1975, hockey fans around the world have been longing for games between NHL clubs and European teams. There have been several games since then, but this is the first time we will have a summit meeting, a one-off final, for a trophy which we hope will be part of the annual international calendar for years to come. (IIHF.COM)

For years whether I have was writing for Dubi at the Blueshirt Bulletin, Kara at Ranger Fan Central or even at the old Ranger's email digest, the one thing I have learned is that hockey fans worldwide know who the New York Rangers are and the numbers of the Ranger fans around the globe is staggering..

Playing regular season games in the Czech Republic was the NHL's idea but the selection of the Rangers for the Victoria's Cup was about the franchise itself and not just Jagr. Again the IIHF President Rene Fasel:

We agreed that the Rangers would be the optimal club to represent the NHL in the first Victoria Cup, The Rangers were the first ever NHL club to play against a European team when they met CSKA Moscow in New York on December 28, 1975, they have been one of the NHL teams that have most often shown enthusiasm to go overseas and there is no doubt that many Europeans fans will have no problems identifying with the heavy international presence that the club has. But first and foremost, the New York Rangers are one of the most identifiable clubs in all of hockey and professional sports (IIHF.COM)

If you think that the Europeans are going to play these games like they are exhibitions then you do not realize how wrong you are. For SC Bern (which does have former NHL players like former Ranger Christian Dube, Ramzi Abid and Travis Roche on their roster), they are not going to roll over on their home ice.

The fans of SC Bern are as passionate and as crazed about their team as any Ranger fan, the attendance numbers that they put up every season are better than several NHL teams. To them defeating the Rangers would be their version of the "Miracle on Ice".

If you have not seen how noisy the European fans can get then think back to the days of Madision Square Garden during the mid 1990's. Do not think for a second that those European fans are going to be cheering for the Rangers as they would love to see on of their own defeat an NHL team on their home ice.

SC Bern is also scheduled to report to training camp starting August 7th as their regular season begins September 5th and includes qualifying for the European Champions Hockey League. Given the Ranger exhibition schedule setup that at best the Ranger regulars will have 3 maybe 4 exhibition games under their belt.

As a team the Rangers may not even have a full game together which is a very dangerous situation to place the Ranger team in when they face SC Bern on September 30th. The bigger game though is the very next night when they do take on Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL in the Victoria Cup.

If you have not done any research on Metallurg Magnitogorsk then this is one of Russia's very best run hockey teams. You are talking about a team that was Russian champions in 2007, European Champs in 2008 so do not take this team lightly at all.

If the Rangers lose that game then all of those who are calling the KHL a competitor to the NHL will have actual proof to point at. Do not think for a second that the folks at the KHL would milk a
Metallurg Magnitogorsk victory or even a close loss for all it is worth.

The Rangers (and the NHL) are making a huge mistake here acting as if these 2 games will not count. Even worse is the idea as to how many a Ranger fan will react if the Rangers lose either game right before the season opener?

If you think the Europeans would be celebrating then imagine the roasting that Ranger fans will do to Tom Renney, Glen Sather and the team. They just might not want to come back from Europe.

Memo to the Outsiders

When people talk about the IIHF as being a "the IIHF is really just a toothless bureaucracy when it comes to enforcing sanctions against individual players.” as Eric McErlain did in the Sporting News then he forgets that the IIHF can punish hockey federations for not working with them.

The IIHF does have a weapon against the Russians which is removing them from the Champions Hockey League, the world championships (which will be used to seed for the 2010 Olympics) and finally from said Olympics.

Do that right before the Russians will be hosting their own first Winter Olympics would be a nasty weapon to use. Please give the folks at the IIHF some credit already.

It is sad that North Americans continue to trash the one group who is trying so very hard try to build hockey all over the world and is in fact trying to work out a fair solution.

Scott Burnside at ESPN.Com suggests the NHL cancel playing in the Victoria Cup if the Russians do not agree to return Radulov to the Nashville Predators. This is another not so good idea since the ones who would be hurt the most would actually be the folks at the IIHF themselves who are trying to launch this event.

It would punish the fans of SC Bern and European hockey fans who are looking forward to the Victoria Cup. It would give the Russians a major propaganda tool to rally sympathy to their side since it would be the NHL backing out of a signed agreement not with the Russians but with the IIHF

And one has to seriously point out that while the North American media is portraying the NHL as victims here at the same time NHL teams have continued to sign players who supposedly had signed contracts overseas like Krog, York and younger Federov.

Sorry can we try some fairness for a change please?

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