By his last estimate, Kevin Shattenkirk’s entourage was up to about 120 people Thursday morning. They were all coming to watch him make his Rangers debut against the Avalanche later that night, and the horde of well-wishers included friends and family, people who watched him grow up in New Rochelle, the kid who loved the Rangers and idolized Brian Leetch.
He might be interested in doing a recount, though. Because at the end of the first period, most everyone at Madison Square Garden wanted a spot in the Shattenkirk army.
The Rangers lost, 4-2, but Shattenkirk was exactly as advertised on Opening Night — a formidable power-play quarterback whose mobility and production gave the Rangers the spark they needed to overcome a two-goal first-period deficit. (He also was on the ice for two of the Avalanche’s goals, a trade-off that some worried about when the Rangers signed him during the summer.)
“The first shift or two was a little emotional, taking it all in,” Shattenkirk said. “From there, it kind of settled in . . . I felt good as the game went along. Again, aside from a few mistakes from my side, I think we’re not far off and I’m not far off from playing our best hockey.”
Though he had a misstep early — Matt Duchene was able to shake him off near the net to score on a rebound at 5:29 — he redeemed himself on the Rangers’ first goal, a one-timer by Mika Zibanejad facilitated by a beauty of a pass by Shattenkirk. Crashing the net, Shattenkirk drew a host of defenders and patiently waited before feeding Zibanejad near the left point. That goal cut the deficit to one.
With 40 seconds left in the period, Shattenkirk drew an interference call that set up the equalizer — another man-up goal by Zibanejad.
Shattenkirk has had at least 25 power-play points in each of the last four seasons and at least 44 points in each of those seasons. He was offered more money and longer contracts by other teams, according to an article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, but when it was time to make his decision, his mind went back to Leetch. “I wanted to be him,” he said of his younger self. “I wanted to be a New York Ranger.”
And that’s how he found himself gliding onto the ice at the Garden on Thursday. He was cheered heartily when he was introduced. More than 120 people already were firmly on his side, the cheers for Shattenkirk among the loudest.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s, for me, a comforting feeling knowing so many people are supporting us and supporting us as a team. It’s important.”
In the end, it was partially another day at work, and partially the realization of a childhood dream very few get to live.
“The result still kind of stings,” he said. “I think when I look back on it a long time from now, it will obviously be a great moment for me. It still was a special night in my career.”