Speaking from experience, Doug Weight said the Islanders-Rangers rivalry really is the same on both sides. As he prepared yesterday for his first New York-New York game as Islanders coach, the former Rangers player said that each team takes the series just as seriously and intensely as the other does. That is no shock, or at least not as surprising as the fact that so many have been able to make that comparison.
As much as the teams always have disdained each other, they sure have had their share of common DNA. It goes back to the first year of the Islanders, who had former Ranger Phil Goyette as their first coach and replaced him with another, Earl Ingarfield. Former Rangers Ron Stewart and Arnie Brown played for those original Islanders, too. It was understandable that a new team would want to tap familiar names, just as the expansion Mets leaned on Dodgers, Giants and Yankees alumni.
But 45 years into this rivalry, there still is a lot of cross-pollination, with Weight coaching the Islanders and the Rangers being led in goal-scoring by former Islander Michael Grabner (26 entering the game).
The familiarity just mirrors the arguments that are held over dinner tables and work desks in the metropolitan area.
“If you hate a kid and you’re 6 years old and you fight him every day, it doesn’t matter if it’s behind the church, behind your house or in the alley. It doesn’t matter if you’re on that side or this side. It’s a rivalry,” said Weight, who broke in as a Rangers rookie in 1991 and ended his playing career as an Islander 20 years later. “ ‘Hate’ is a tough word in a sport, but you get amped up and you want to see a great game and you want to win more than ever.
“Rangers fans have this ability, before they tell you their name, they say, ‘I’m a Ranger fan.’ I’m like, ‘That’s great. I’m Doug.’ Both fan bases are passionate, passionate, passionate. People in this area of the country are tough. It makes for a great thing.”
He follows a long line of people who have worked for both shades of blue.
Neil Smith won a Stanley Cup in 1994 as Rangers general manager after working his way up in the Islanders’ organization. Don Maloney scored a huge (and disputed) playoff goal against the Islanders and within 10 years was their general manager.
There was the unexpected and brief reign of Bryan Trottier as Rangers coach. Islanders standouts Pat LaFontaine, Patrick Flatley, Glenn Healy and Ray Ferraro later played for the Rangers. John Vanbiesbrouck was among those who made the transition in the opposite direction.
Even as the Islanders’ coach, Weight does not have a bitter taste when he talks about The Other Guys. “I have great memories,” he said. “And I tell [fans] all the time I still root for the Rangers. Not when we play them. I want to beat them, I want to be higher than them. But I think it’s a great thing for a sport to have both teams doing well. There’s nothing better.”
He was traded from the Rangers to Edmonton in 1993, a year before his old team finally won the Cup. “I was still young and dumb. I remember calling Brian Leetch after every single game. I was rooting for them,” he said after the morning skate at the Islanders’ Long Island practice facility. “I rooted every game like I was still on the team. I look back and I’m like, ‘What was I doing?’ But it was fun for me. Brian is still one of my closest friends.”
These days, Weight is “very impressed” with the Rangers. With the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of a busy street, he added, “We want to win so maybe we can meet them in the playoffs. Who knows? I think it’s a great thing for the game. It would be an unbelievable scenario.”