One of the recurring themes over the course of the near 50-year Rangers-Islanders rivalry is just how uniquely eccentric it has been.
But even in a series that has been dotted with odd moments, this was strange.
There weren’t any fights. Cross words were not uttered. Dirty looks were non-existent. Instead, this iteration of The Rivalry was remarkable for the smiles, the mutual respect, its good-naturedness.
“The best part of the game, and [I’ve] said this so often, is the people," said former Ranger Adam Graves. "And not just on the guys on the ice or people on the ice, [but] just everyone, and when you can get together and celebrate the community, the hockey community of New York and support Northwell Health and their foundation and all the great things they do for families and kids, it’s a special treat."
The Islanders Alumni outlasted the Rangers 9-8 in a shootout in the first Alumni Classic Saturday afternoon at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow.
The game, played as two 25-minute halves, was the centerpiece of an afternoon which included a meet-and-greet with the players and designed to raise money for the Northwell Health Foundation. With a sellout crowd of 1,500, that total came to $25,000.
“We do stuff with both the Islanders and the Rangers,” Michael J. Dowling, the CEO of Northwell Health told Newsday. “For quite a number of years. There have been other kind of events in the past [and] this year they decided it would be a great thing if we had an alumni game with former Islanders and Rangers. This is the culmination.”
Dowling said the idea for the game was conceived “last year,” but the actual process of making it a reality only took a “couple of months.” He added that he hoped it would become an annual event.
On Saturday the approach from both sides was similar.
“We’re going to get a good laugh out there,” said Benoit Hogue, who recorded a hat trick in the win. “It’s for fun, for charity.”
And to remember the losses both organizations have suffered this season.
Alumni from both teams spoke about how the organizations have been affected by the deaths of franchise legends Rod Gilbert, Emile Francis, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies and Jean Potvin.
“Those gentlemen,” former Islander Steve Webb said, “they are icons and established hockey on Long Island and New York, and the New York metropolitan area. It’s why we have the fans we have today . . . We’re in for a big alumni weekend. It’s a lot more meaningful. When you get talking with guys and sharing their memories of their interaction with their teammates and their lives and their families, and how they interact with one another.
“It’s pretty important [when] you get together and having your family and hockey family here . . . to have these conversations.”
During the game, a white No. 22 Mike Bossy jersey hung behind the Islanders’ bench.
“We all kind of [hugged] each other yesterday saying hello,” Hogue said. “The moment we have together we have to share that because we’re all getting older. And things happen. And it has been tough.”