Donald Brashear got his first taste of Ranger Nation last night - and true to form, he counterpunched.
As Brashear was introduced by emcee Dave Maloney last night to about 350 ticketholders at the Theater lobby at Madison Square Garden, the enforcer was met by more than a smattering of boos. From the stage, Maloney tried to deflect the detractors - still sore from Brashear's high hit that felled Blair Betts in the playoffs against the Caps last season - but the new Ranger did that on his own.
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"For those of you who are booing," said Brashear, "I'll hit you one by one." And just like that, the laughter defused some of the tension.
"What's done is done," Brashear said before the public session. "I remember playing with Steve Eminger in Washington and we were always talking about how I once hit him behind the net and knocked him down. It all depends, sometimes it ends a player's season. Hopefully, he sees it like I wasn't trying to hit him in the face, I was trying to deliver a hit.
"The players in general, they know that's who I am, that's what I do, try to deliver hits and try to intimidate any way I can. Players know from team to team, when you do it to the opposite team, they hate it. When you're on their team, they like it . . . I'm pretty sure at some point we're going to cross and laugh about it. I got hit in the head with a stick one time [by Marty McSorley, in an incident that triggered an assault trial in Vancouver] and I put it behind me."
But Brashear, who was signed to a two-year deal to replace unrestricted free agent Colton Orr, acknowledged that the hit that KO'd Betts sparked the Caps.
"It certainly gave our team some wings," he recalled. "In the playoffs, you want to get that extra edge and sometimes it's things like that that makes a difference."
At one point in the often edgy question-and-answer session, Chris Higgins defended Brashear, saying that having faced him often as a Canadien, opponents appreciate that "the guy can play," and noted that Brashear scored 38 goals in an AHL season. "You don't do that without some skills."
Near the end of the hour-long encounter, which also included questions for Chris Drury, Marian Gaborik and Ales Kotalik, one fan recalled that since the 1970s, when Dale Rolfe received a beatdown from the Flyers and no Rangers responded, that the team was considered "soft," and that she for one, welcomed Brashear. He didn't respond directly, but said he was used to booing from city to city.
"You can take it two ways," he said with a smile. "You're not doing a good job or you are doing a good job."