Say one thing about the folks who run Madison Square Garden: When it’s time to do celebrations and tributes and that sort of thing, they put on a first-class show.
The Garden celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup triumph Friday night before the current team took on the Carolina Hurricanes, and everything came off perfectly.
“Twenty-five years ago, we stood right here and raised the Stanley Cup,’’ Mark Messier, the indomitable captain of the 1993-94 Rangers, told the crowd in the on-ice ceremony that recognized the players and others who made it happen. “A lot of people thought it would never happen. But this group of guys behind me made it happen.’’
Messier, defenseman Brian Leetch, goaltender Mike Richter, left wing Adam Graves and the other members of the championship team were present for the ceremony — everyone except forward Brian Noonan and the late Alexander Karpovtsev, who died in 2011 in the plane crash in Russia that wiped out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team, for which he was an assistant coach.
General manager Neil Smith and coach Mike Keenan, who did not get along that season, sat together at the podium in the pre-ceremony news conference at the Garden. Former PR man and emcee Barry Watkins looked at them and said, “You two together? It should be interesting.’’
When asked how much the specter of 1940 — the last time the Rangers had won the Stanley Cup before 1994 — hung over the team, Messier said, “I think for me, there was no escaping the pressure of 1940. Coming here [in 1991] and understanding what an Original Six franchise was, and this history, there was no escaping it. It was real. From the fans, from the organization, I felt it, for sure. And I’m sure everybody in that dressing room that year felt it.’’
The on-ice ceremony was but a small part of the weekend for the former Rangers. The bigger thing, according to Richter, was everybody reuniting.
“I’m just blown away by seeing these guys,’’ said the goalie, who now sports a full beard with a touch of gray in it. “[Almost] every single guy made it back, of course, unfortunately except for ‘Karpie,’ who was in that horrible plane crash. These guys haven’t changed. They’re amazing people and great friends and picking up conversations we had 20 years ago.’’
Smith, who was the architect of the team, said the 1994 championship has grown in significance the past 25 years. The Rangers, who had the best record in the league in 1991-92, Messier’s first season with the team, were eliminated by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins that spring and managed to win only that one title in 1994.
All of the players who spoke at the podium — Messier, Richter, Graves and Leetch — talked about how people still thank them for delivering that one championship that, in the words of TV play-by-play man Sam Rosen, “will last a lifetime.’’
“Even for me, I’m like, ‘How the heck did we do that?’ ’’ Smith said. “Because when you think about it, all this time has passed, and I think as time goes on, at least to me, it seems that people are more appreciative and respectful of what a great job these guys did. And Mike [Keenan] and the players, it’s the impossible dream . . .
“I think it’s grown. It’s just great to have that memory to live with.’’