Imagine you are a lifelong Rangers fan. Maybe you grew up in Queens, playing roller hockey at a time when every neighborhood had its own team. Maybe you even had Rangers season tickets, first with your father, and then later, after you’d moved to Long Island and started a family, with your sons.
And say you became a hockey dad, taking your sons to early morning practices, and chasing them all over the Northeast with their club teams. Then imagine one of your sons grew up to be a hockey star, who played in college, got drafted by an NHL team, and eventually left college to turn pro — and signed with the Rangers.
If you’re Bruce Fox, you don’t have to imagine. That would be your life.
Fox’s younger son, Adam, is at home in Jericho this summer, after dropping out of Harvard to pursue an NHL career with the Rangers. Adam Fox, 21, is one of the Rangers’ brightest hopes, a 5-11, 195-pound defenseman who last week was presented with the Jim Johannson Award as U.S. Hockey’s top college player. Fox, a righthanded-shooting defenseman, led the NCAA in assists in 2018-19 with 39, adding nine goals to total 48 points in 33 games. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in college hockey, and after the season, he decided the time was right to turn pro.
“I think for me, it was always a process — kind of year by year,’’ Fox said of his decision to leave Harvard after his junior year. “I think, after sophomore year, I knew I was going to come back, but thought if I could really take a jump in my development, and take that next step and be ready, then I’d have to make a decision at the end of (junior) year. You know, the year went pretty well for me, and when it ended … I felt that going pro would be the next step and would help me the most in the process.’’
Fox had been drafted by the Calgary Flames in the third round in and traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in a multiplayer deal last summer. Because of the rule on college players, he had the leverage to force Carolina to trade him to the Rangers. The rule dictates that players who are drafted and go to college become free agents if they don’t sign a pro contract within four years. That meant all Fox had to do was let the Hurricanes know if they didn’t trade him to the Rangers he would return to Harvard in the fall, and sign with the Rangers as a free agent next summer.
Carolina traded him to the Rangers in April for a second-round pick in this summer’s draft and a conditional third-rounder next summer. A few days later, Fox signed an entry level contract with the Rangers and a few days after that he joined the U.S. team for the World Championships, where he played with Rangers players Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei, and potential first round draft pick Jack Hughes.
The fact he’d grown up a Ranger fan was certainly part of the reason Fox wanted to play for the Blueshirts, but the Rangers being in a rebuilding phase was a major factor, he said.
“Because if you’re on a team with a ‘win-now’ mentality, maybe for a younger player, you’re not allowed to make as many mistakes as you could on a team that’s rebuilding,’’ said Fox.
Fox said his goal is to make the Rangers this season. The Rangers have clearly tried to stockpile as many young defensemen as they can, and they seemingly keep adding defense prospects at every turn.
In addition to Fox, they have signed two other young defensemen this summer, Russian Yegor Rykov and Finn Tarmo Reunanen. Prospects Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren, who both played at AHL Hartford last season and came up to the Rangers late in the season, will get long looks in training camp, and as far as righthanded, offensive-minded defensemen currently on the roster, veteran Kevin Shattenkirk and 23-year-olds Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo return.
For Bruce Fox, being a committed Ranger fan whose son is on the team is great, but it’s tricky. A season ticketholder from 1970 to 2009 (he said the tickets simply got too expensive to keep after that), he’s quite knowledgeable about the team. Like most fans, he’s all in on the rebuild, but it gets complicated when your kid is in the discussion. Like, does he want the Rangers to sign a big name free agent like Erik Karlsson, or trade for a young star like Jacob Trouba? Both would no doubt improve the Rangers’ talent level, but both are righthanded, offensive-minded defensemen whose acquisitions would directly impact his son.
For now, Bruce Fox keeps a lid on his excitement and his expectations. Ask him what it will be like to have a kid on his favorite team and this is what you get:
“If he makes the team? Hopefully, he’ll make the team. And I have no idea.’’
Then ask him if he intends to get season tickets again if his kid does make the team. You get complete silence.
“He wants me to get the tickets,’’ Adam says.
Adam and his older brother, Andrew, 23, started skating young. Adam was 2 years old when he started skating in public sessions at IceWorks in Syosset. He was 4 or 5 when he started playing hockey — neither Bruce nor his wife Tammy could remember exactly — but ended up playing club hockey on the Long Island Gulls, with a couple older boys who would blaze the trail to college and professional hockey for him: Jeremy Bracco and Charlie McAvoy.
Bracco’s dad, Mike, who played college hockey at Dartmouth, was the coach, and McAvoy’s dad, Charlie Sr., was the assistant. The team traveled all over to play at tournaments against the best teams in North America. They even played against Mathew Barzal’s team at one tournament, Bruce remembered.
Bracco and McAvoy made the U.S. National Team Development Program in 2013, and Fox followed them a year later, leaving home at 16, after his sophomore year at Jericho High, to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the team is based. Bracco, McAvoy and Fox played together on the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in 2017 and Fox went back the next season and won the bronze.
Bracco played college hockey for a year at Boston College, then played junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL and now is on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL farm team, the Toronto Marlies. McAvoy played in college for current Rangers coach David Quinn at Boston University for two years and now plays for the Boston Bruins.
Bruce Fox, who is a salesman for Esquire Bank, in Jericho, doesn’t brag to his co-workers that his son is a professional hockey player, though, by now, people know.
“I try to keep it low key,’’ Bruce said.
Adam, he said, is “very humble’’ about his own career, though when he is on Long Island, he gets a lot of questions.
“I felt bad for him; I took him to a barbecue on (last) Sunday with my friends, and he was getting bombarded,’’ Bruce Fox said. “The same questions: ‘When’s training camp; what do you think; where are you going to live?’ He doesn’t know.’’
Of course, some of that depends on whether he makes the Rangers or ends up in Hartford, but the one thing he does know is he won’t be living with Bruce and Tammy in Jericho.
“Home? Oh no, I wouldn’t . . .," Adam said.
“No, no, no. He’s out,’’ Bruce said. “There’s no chance he’s living at home. None.’’
To be fair, Tammy said, it’s not because Adam is a hockey player. Bruce said the same thing about Andrew, who is an investment banker in the city and lives in Manhattan.
“It’s just in general,’’ she explains. “It’s time to move on.’’
“You get a paycheck, you move out. It’s not a lifetime contract here,’’ Bruce said. “I’m old school.’’
Age: 21 Vitals: 5-11, 181
Drafted: 2016 by Flames, 3rd round
June 23, 2018: Traded to Hurricanes
April 30, 2019: Traded to Rangers