Yankee Stadium hosting two NHL games involving Rangers, Islanders, Devils
By Bobbie Dittmeier
NEW YORK -- Start spreading the news. The City That Never Sleeps is about to have a week that is sure to keep it wide awake.
Before the New York metropolitan area hosts a Super Bowl for the first time ever a week from Sunday, it will be the home of National Hockey League games played outdoors, the first time such an endeavor has been undertaken in the Big Apple.
The New York Rangers, established in 1926, have played home games in all three incarnations of Madison Square Garden, which calls itself "The World's Most Famous Arena." On Sunday, at 12:30 p.m. ET, when they take on the New Jersey Devils, the Broadway Blueshirts will add another most famous arena, Yankee Stadium, to their history.
Then, on Wednesday, the Rangers will return to the big ballpark in the Bronx to face off against their longtime arch rivals, the New York Islanders, at 7:30 p.m. Those who have witnessed a Rangers-Islanders game from the old blue seats at the Garden, or the green ones at Nassau Coliseum, know just how heated such a contest can become. Even the frigid Arctic air that has gripped the Northeast this winter won't likely be sufficient to cool it off.
And naturally -- wait for it -- there will be whistling from the upper deck, followed by a shout-out regarding Denis Potvin.
COMPARING PUCKS TO BASEBALLS
The Rangers will play two games at Yankee Stadium, the first on Sunday against the New Jersey Devils and the second on Wednesday against the New York Islanders. Here is how New York's two oldest professional sports franchises, the Rangers and Yankees, stack up.
A Super Bowl in Jersey? Hockey games in the Bronx? What in the names of Frank Sinatra, Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen and Doris from Rego Park is going on here? New York isn't quite being transformed into Bizarro World, but this is all certainly different.
Outdoor hockey games aren't new, having first been attempted 60 years ago, but they are in vogue now, six years after the NHL's first Winter Classic, a matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo that drew more than 71,000 fans to Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium. Three Major League ballparks -- Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway Park in Boston and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia -- have since hosted a Winter Classic game. A fourth one, Dodger Stadium, will host a Stadium Series game Saturday between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, and Yankee Stadium will become No. 5 on Sunday.
"Yankee Stadium is a bit of a fairy tale, isn't it?" asked Mike Craig, the NHL's senior manager of facility operations whose department began work at the Stadium last week.
Yes, a fairy tale, perhaps. But these will be important games, too. The Rangers have lost their past two games, to the Islanders and the St. Louis Blues, and while they are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, they entered Friday only one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Devils aren't far behind but sit 12th in the Eastern Conference standings (eight make the playoffs), three points behind the Flyers. And the Islanders, who are 14th in the conference thanks to a dreadful start to the season, have been one of the NHL's hottest teams for the past month, winning 12 of 16 games leading into Saturday's meeting with St. Louis. The Islanders must keep winning to get into the thick of the playoff race.
The Rangers are led by their three-time All-Star goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, and five-time All-Star left wing Rick Nash. The Devils will bring with them their two ageless wonders and certain Hall of Famers -- Jaromir Jagr, the seventh-leading scorer in NHL history, and Martin Brodeur, the winningest goaltender in league history.
The Islanders will show up with with their dynamic top line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek. Tavares began the weekend the second-leading scorer in the league, behind only Pittsburgh Penguins megastar Sidney Crosby.
Lundqvist, for one, has frequently expressed his excitement about playing at Yankee Stadium, and he will be dressed for the occasion, having designed a mask that features not only pinstripes but the images of Yankees legends Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. He might also wear leg pads, a blocker and a catching glove lined with pinstripes.
"I went with the pinstripes, which I think is more of a statement ... about the history and a great opportunity for us to get to show some respect to that organization," Lundqvist told BlueshirtsUnited.com. "Growing up in Sweden, I didn't know much about baseball or the Yankees, but over the years I have been following them more and now when it was time to put some of the players on the mask, I wanted to be right so I asked around a little bit. I picked three players who I think played a huge part in Yankees history. They were big-time players during their time and hopefully the Yankee fans approve [of] it.
"The history, it goes back so long. And the same thing with the Rangers. These are two organizations in New York that, it feels like they've been around forever. It's a cool match, I think, when you put them together. I've been waiting three years for this. We've talked about it: What if we could play in Central Park or Yankee Stadium? It's something you're going to remember the rest of your life."
The Rangers will be the road team for both games, something that was noted by center Brian Boyle, a Massachusetts native -- and Red Sox fan.
"It'll be nice for the away team to get another win at Yankee Stadium," Boyle said to the New York Daily News.
The Devils and Rangers will practice on Saturday. The Islanders and Rangers will practice on Tuesday. There will be events and attractions for fans to enjoy on game days, including a fan zone in the Great Hall that will feature interactive attractions, prizes and giveaways. Live entertainment will include multiple Grammy Award winners CeeLo Green and Michelle Williams and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
An irony involving this temporary marriage of baseball and hockey involves Devils rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas. His father, Marc, pitched four seasons in the Pirates organization, and his brother, Karl, also a pitcher, spent four years in the Angels organization and the past six in the Can-Am League. He will be attending Phillies training camp next month.
So, as it turns out, Eric Gelinas will beat his baseball-playing father and brother to Yankee Stadium.
Maybe this is Bizarro World.
Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.