Aura of Yankee Stadium shines on hockey rink
NHL's Rangers shell Devils with four-goal period; glare on ice delays game
NEW YORK -- There is one ice rink in the Bronx. In three years there should be nine more, thanks to a plan approved last month to transform the historic Kingsbridge Armory into the world's largest indoor ice center. So maybe a second NHL player will someday come from the borough, following Richie Hansen, who traveled to Brooklyn to begin his junior career and played in 20 games for the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues more than three decades ago. Perhaps an Olympian will grow up on the rinks that will be run by Hall of Famer and New York Rangers hero Mark Messier just a few miles up Jerome Avenue, which originates near the foot of Yankee Stadium.
But for now, this week, there is a second rink in the Bronx, located on the infield at Yankee Stadium, a seemingly unlikely venue until six years ago, when the National Hockey League began conducting outdoor games for fun and profit. It's where 50,105 fans braved the frigid cold on Sunday to see the Rangers and New Jersey Devils play in the shadow of the famous frieze remiscent of the House That Ruth Built that once stood across the street, the original Stadium where Muhammad Ali defeated Ken Norton, the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants for the NFL championship in "The Greatest Game Ever Played," and was the Yankees' home for 26 of their 27 World Series titles.
The contrast in images -- the Rangers and Devils playing hockey on the same piece of earth where Mariano Rivera wept and Derek Jeter blasted his 3,000th hit into the bleachers -- was undeniable as the teams traded goals early before the Rangers put away the game in the second period with a grand slam of goals -- four of them -- en route to a 7-3 win.
There was no shortage of parallels with baseball from beginning to end. The legendary Yankee Stadium sun field, the bane of left fielders for nearly a century -- as Yogi Berra once explained, "It gets late early out there" -- made its presence felt, delaying the game for more than an hour because of concern that glare from the ice might put players in peril. And the fans cheered when the (grounds?) crew began to remove the tarp from the playing surface shortly before 12:30. That was a familiar sound.
And when Travis Zajac scored 16 minutes into the first period, giving the Devils a 3-1 lead on only their eighth shot of the game against Henrik Lundqvist, bedecked in pinstriped goalie equipment, one couldn't help but wonder if Rangers coach Alain Vigneault might need to make a call to the bullpen. But as it turned out, it was Devils coach Peter DeBoer who had to bring in a reliever, when three goals in less than seven minutes and a three-goal deficit knocked out Martin Brodeur after two periods.
On the other hand, no one caught a foul puck. And Mo didn't emerge from the bullpen when "Enter Sandman" was played at one point during the delay, though some Yankees fans might have fallen for the unintended "made ya look" trick. Certainly it made many of them think of the great relief pitcher.
It was difficult to tell which team had the edge in representation in the stands, which were full except for the far reaches of the outfield upper deck. There was an awful lot of red, though, perhaps suggesting that Rangers fans who wanted to see their team play outside wound up split between Sunday's contest and the one coming up Wednesday night against the archrival Islanders.
It was 25 degrees -- no, make that 24.9, according to the in-house announcement -- when the game began, and it got colder as the day progressed. And then, five minutes into the second period, more than 2 1/2 hours after the scheduled game time, the cruel winter that hasn't given anyone a break in nearly a month delivered snow. But the fans, many young and presumably bundled up underneath their hockey jerseys, didn't seem to care. They danced to the music that filled the Stadium before and during the game, loudly urged on their team, and of course paid tribute to Denis Potvin a few times.
The fans in the blue jerseys were rewarded for their endurance in the second period, when the Rangers scored two goals 1:09 apart to turn a 3-3 tie into a 5-3 lead.
"The first period there was sun, the second there was snow, and the third was pretty cold," said Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, who scored the first two of New York's four second-period goals, both on 2-on-1 passes in front of Brodeur.
Brodeur, the winningest goaltender in NHL history and an unquestionable Hall of Famer, was replaced by Cory Schneider at the start of the third period. DeBoer said the switch was Brodeur's idea.
"I had a conversation with him and we both agreed, and it was actually his comment, 'How about giving Schneids the experience of a period in this environment,'" DeBoer said. "So I give him credit for that.
"Other than the outcome, that was one of the best hockey experiences any of us have ever had."
Lundqvist, who wore a specially designed mask that featured the images of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, and who had for weeks expressed a special excitement about playing at the Stadium, settled down and shut out the Devils through the final two periods.
"My first thought after those three goals was: Am I going to be able to finish this game?" he said. "I wasn't on my toes. They told me warmups would be 2, 2:30, so I went to sleep. Then they woke me up and said warmups in 30 minutes."
Despite the rocky start and having to keep his head down so as not to have his depth perception affected by the size of the Stadium and the distance to the stands, Lundqvist said that later in the game, with the Rangers comfortably ahead, he was able to look around and take in the experience. And he said the greeting by the fans as the players emerged from the dugouts for warmups was "very special." Vigneault called it a "neat experience."
"It was a great feeling, an exciting feeling, a proud moment, too, walking out here in front of all the fans in such a special stadium," Lundqvist said.
Even Lundqvist, a native of Sweden who has played in New York for almost nine seasons, slipped into baseball-speak as he discussed the game.
"You want to think of this as a special moment, but you can only have that if you win," he said. "We felt we had so many guys step up to the plate today."
Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.