I remember the day I became an actual New Yorker. We were about to play the biggest game of our lives. Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals versus the Devils. Madison Square Garden, 7 p.m. Me, Marc Staal and Derek Stepan were all living on the Upper West Side at the time, so we decided to drive to the game together in Derek’s SUV.
Quick drive down 11th Av to the Garden. We’d done it a million times. It takes 20 minutes max at that time of day. Stepan is the most paranoid guy in the world when it comes to being early, so he had us in the car with plenty of time to spare.
I’ll never forget, we turned onto 11th, and it was a catastrophe. Bumper-to-bumper traffic nightmare. All brake lights. It’s not like we’re moving 10 feet a minute. We’re not moving period. Ten minutes pass, nobody says a word. Silence. Twenty minutes pass, and everybody’s so up in their heads thinking about the game that still nobody’s saying anything.
Thirty minutes pass, and we’re still on like 55th and 11th. It was one of those moments that every New Yorker has experienced at least once in their lives — whether it was on the subway or in a taxi or in their car — when they’re sitting there totally trapped, freaking out.
We can’t turn off left or right on to a side street, and we can’t even see what’s holding everything up. People are beeping their horns, but nothing is happening. Step is living his worst nightmare. He’s got his phone out, I’ve got my phone out, and we’re in that panic mode where we’re pulling up Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze … we’re arguing over which app is better, we’re downloading weird new traffic apps to see if they’ll make any difference. Total panic.
Finally, Step decides he’s had enough, and he calls up our team services guy, Alex Case, and he’s like, “Dude, we’re stuck in traffic! We’re seriously not gonna make it! Should we abandon the car and take the subway? Should we abandon the car and just start running?”
Every plan started and ended with abandoning Step’s SUV on 11th Av.
But Alex calmed us down and he was like, “Wait, what street are you on?”
“You’re on 11th? Are you crazy? Get over to the West Side Highway and take it all the way down.”
So we took his advice, and I remember we had to actually turn and go back north for a few blocks before we could get all the way over to the West Side Highway. And that’s when I started picturing John Tortorella’s face, as someone told him that the three of us were nowhere to be found before the team meeting. It was my first full season in the NHL. I was dying.
Thankfully, Alex’s advice saved our butts that day. We crawled over to the West Side Highway and then the traffic finally opened up. We got to the Garden, hopped out, sprinted to the elevator, and made it to the locker room five minutes before the meeting. I don’t even know if Torts ever found out.
I made one of those deals with myself while we were stuck in traffic, like, “If you survive this, you will teach yourself how to ride the subway.” That summer, with a little help from my wife, I figured out the A-C-E line. (Rangers fans are probably laughing at me, but for somebody who grew up in Minnesota, the subway is seriously intimidating until you know what you’re doing.)
Some of my favorite memories of New York are taking the subway to games at Madison Square Garden and having a Rangers fans recognize me and ask me all about the team. What I loved about playing here was that you could still live a regular life without too many people recognizing you, and even if they did, they never bothered you too much.
When I was 20 years old, I was sitting in my apartment in front of the Xbox with a bunch of my teammates at the University of Wisconsin, and the GM of the Montreal Canadiens called me and told me that they had traded my rights to the New York Rangers. I had no idea how much that call would change the rest of my life. It ended up bringing me so many memories and great friendships.
My wife and I loved every second of our time in New York City. Our daughter, Falan, was born here in 2016, so the city will always be a huge part of our family’s story. Unfortunately, it’s time to say goodbye. I knew that a trade was a strong possibility, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less to leave. The feeling of standing in the locker room at MSG right before warmups, with all my gear on, and pulling my blue sweater off the hanger … it was an indescribable honor.
And then to actually see the C stitched on that blue sweater … what can I say? There are no words. How many players get the opportunity to wear the C for an Original Six team in the NHL? I will cherish the opportunity forever.
I had the pleasure of coming up with a group of young players who weren’t just my teammates, but my good friends: Step, Marc, Mats Zuccarello, Dan Girardi and so many others. I got to learn from some incredible veterans, like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Chris Drury. Chris was my first captain when I was a rookie, and he was a guy I grew up watching playing for Team USA so many times. Wearing the Rangers jersey with him was so special.
Then there are the guys behind the scenes who were so instrumental to our success. I owe a big thanks to our trainer, Jim Ramsay, our equipment manager, Acacio Marques, and our team operations staff, Jason Vogel and Alex Case — guys who work countless hours so that we can do our jobs on the ice. They never get enough credit.
We never won a Stanley Cup, which was the ultimate goal, but we had some great runs, and made some great memories. I’ll never forget when everybody thought we were done against the Capitals in 2015, and we came back from 3–1 down to win the series. When we were a goal away from elimination in overtime of Game 5, Step had the game on his stick in front of the net. And for some reason that I still don’t totally understand to this day….
… he gave me a no-look drop pass. He teed me up perfectly, like we were just goofing around after practice at Wisconsin. Usually the game moves so fast in the NHL that everything is a blur, but that puck floated out to me in slow motion, like in a dream. I was so stunned that he passed it that all I could do was just shoot it as hard as I could. Didn’t look. Didn’t aim. Just fired it. I didn’t even see it go in. I just heard the Garden erupt.
I’ll never forget that goal for the rest of the my life.
I’ll never forget what an honor it was to play for the New York Rangers.
I’ll never forget the friends I made here.
Trades are part of the business. Change is part of life. I’m definitely a little bit sad and a little bit excited to be heading to Tampa. It’s a lot of emotions all at once. (And I’m sitting in the airport terminal right now, which doesn’t help!) But how many players, when they leave a place, can say, “I played in the most famous arena in the world, in front of the best fans in the world, in the best city in the world,” and truly mean every word of it?
I played in the most famous arena in the world.
In front of the best fans in the world.
In the best city in the world.
And I mean every word of it.
Thank you, New York.