the sports section

How to Pretend to Care About Hockey


Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers’ A-Rod.Photo: Getty Images

It’s NHL playoff time, and your New York Rangers start their postseason tonight in Atlanta. This is good news for the Rangers themselves and troubling news for the rest of New York, which is suddenly obligated to actually pay attention to hockey. How to follow a team you haven’t watched in a while (or since 1994 or never) and don’t much care about? Simple: Just pretend the Rangers play for other New York teams, the ones you’ve heard of. So who’s the Rangers’ A-Rod? Who’s their Paul Lo Duca? After the jump, our guide to the Rangers and their other-sports analogues.

Jaromir Jagr may be the Rangers’ captain, but Derek Jeter he is not. Disliked in most arenas and absolutely despised in Pittsburgh and Washington, where he used to play, Jagr is the Rangers’ A-Rod. And just like Rodriguez, Jagr has recently made the transition from “best player in the league” to “one of the best players in the league.” But those who mock A-Rod in the clutch should turn their ire to Jagr: For a while this season, he asked not to participate in game-deciding shootouts.

Wunderkind Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist appeared last season and was promptly named one of People’s most beautiful people. But just being pretty and a star athlete isn’t enough to get by in this town. (Sorry, David Wright.) We’d like to think of Lundqvist as the second coming of former Yankee (and beautiful-People person) Bernie Williams, who also found time to release an album of Latin-jazz guitar tunes in 2003: Lundqvist once played guitar in a Swedish cover band called Box Play. (Presumably, the sort-of-retired Williams has more time to practice nowadays.)

The Rangers’ scorching-hot season finish can be traced to the February 5 trade for agitator Sean Avery. Since that deal, the Rangers were a remarkable 17-6-6 (that’s seventeen wins, six losses, and six overtime losses — and yes, you get a point for an overtime loss in hockey). The five-foot-nine center is known for running his mouth as much as he is for his play. So consider Avery the Rangers version of the Mets’ resident Napoleon-complexed pain in the ass, the five-foot-ten Paul Lo Duca. Plus, you could find either one in the tabloids: Lo Duca is in the process of divorcing a former Playboy model; Avery has dated model Rachel Hunter and actress Elisha Cuthbert.

To call president and general manager Glen Sather the Rangers’ Isiah Thomas is unfair; Sather was spending a fortune to not make the playoffs at the Garden long before Thomas came along. A better comparison might be to the Mets’ Omar Minaya. Whether he wants to admit it, Minaya has kept his clubhouse happy by surrounding his Latin superstars (Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran) with more Latin superstars (Carlos Delgado). Likewise, Sather has kept Jagr happy by surrounding him with fellow sons of the Czech Republic.

Which brings us to head coach Tom Renney. He’s generally well liked (so a comparison to Tom Coughlin is out), in each of his full seasons as head coach of the Rangers, he led the team to the playoffs (sorry, Willie Randolph), and his job’s never been in serious jeopardy (nope, not Joe Torre). Which, by default, means the only comparison is to the Jets’ Eric Mangini, who has something else in common with Renney: As of this morning, he’s never won a playoff game. — Joe DeLessio

How to Pretend to Care About Hockey