Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rangers Have International Flavor; Devils Go Native [Lynn Zinser]

Lynn Zinser of the New York Times writes a great piece today about how the Rangers are trying to make a splash in the international economy in places like Eastern Europe. (Much the same way the New York Mets are trying to solidify an economic corner in Latin America)

Rangers and the Devils have always been separated by more than the Hudson River and a few miles of swampland. Their bitter rivalry has pushed them to opposite ends of many scales — playing style, free-agent signings — making it often seem as if one serves as the other’s N.H.L. counterweight...

...Now, however, they also find themselves with an unintentional cultural gap. The Rangers have become a sort of
United Nations of the sport, featuring players from eight countries and even selling T-shirts with “Be a Ranger” written in those countries’ languages.... ...The Devils, in contrast, have the most players from the United States of any team in the N.H.L., 14. (A 15th, Cam Janssen, has played 28 games with the Devils this season but is in the minors.)

The Rangers also did not construct their team in order to fly different flags around their rink. Both franchises are coached by Canadians, Tom Renney for the Rangers and Claude Julien for the Devils. Their captains are Czechs, Rangers right wing
Jaromir Jagr and Devils left wing Patrik Elias.

In recent years, the Rangers’ road has become the more common one; the N.H.L. has grown more international, although Canadians still dominate the league. Of the approximately 670 players on N.H.L. rosters, which change almost daily, nearly half are Canadian. About 120 are United States natives, with about 70 Czechs, 43 Swedes and 45 from countries that made up the Soviet Union.

“I think you build a team with the best players available,” said Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan, who became a United States citizen in 2002 but still plays for Canada. “I don’t think there’s a team or a general manager in the league who has a choice between two players and chooses the nationality over who’s the better player. Everybody wants to win. Any sort of makeup of a team is probably accidental.”

The Rangers assembled their melting-pot team in a city that carries diversity to an extreme. And the Devils live in a state where, Lamoriello said, the number of youth hockey teams had quadrupled since the team moved there in 1982.

The Rangers have dealt with their diversity by celebrating it. The “Be a Ranger” T-shirt grew out of the coaches’ attempt to give the players a common rallying point. Renney started by making a shirt for each player with “Be a Ranger” written in his language. The marketing department put them all on one shirt.

“We understand that it takes all of these cultures to have success and what we wanted to do was bring it to a common denominator, and that was being a Ranger first and foremost,” Renney said. “I understand how much of an honor it is to wear the jersey, to be an Original Six player, playing in New York. I’m proud of the fact that our international guys embrace that.”...

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