I spent Wednesday night up in Poughkeepsie at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center's McCann Ice Arena with the Rangers Director of Fan Development Rick Nadeau, Rick's staff, Blueshirts alum Brian Mullen, and the Rangers Road Tour van, enjoying the hockey community on a grassroots level.
The Rangers were on hand for the Hudson Valley High School Hockey League kickoff event, one of the dozens of youth hockey events Nadeau either arranges and hosts, or plans for the organization to attend each year.
For me the evening was a special treat. I do not typically get to attend these events given my schedule covering the Rangers and the Connecticut Whale, the team's top minor league affiliate. But the opportunity to spend time with these youth hockey players, coaches, organizers, and parents---listening to their stories, sharing in their hockey community---made me see why Nadeau is so passionate about his job. This is the real heartbeat of the sport. Being a part of the fabric that connects youth hockey organizations throughout the Tri-State area is special, for sure.
Mullen was the featured speaker of the evening---the former Rangers stick boy who grew up in Hell's Kitchen playing hockey on roller skates only to reach the NHL and one day land in The Garden as a high-scoring Blueshirt. As if his own journey did not already make Mullen the perfect speaker for an event such as this, the popular Rangers alum is now a youth hockey coach, as well. As he spoke and answered questions, it was clear that Brian Mullen was not an outsider amongst these people. He was clearly one of them.
"I'm a New Yorker, and I'm proud to be a youth hockey coach," Mullen told me on Wednesday. "That's why it's so important to me to come here and share my time with these players and coaches. And I think it's great that the Rangers are as involved in the community, especially with youth hockey leagues, as they are."
The feeling of community within the room Wednesday grew with each story Mullen related. It also was evident when a league official discussed the Hudson Valley High Scool Hockey League's commitment to on-ice safety for the kids, as well as the league's own charitable endeavors.
In the end it was all about being a part of the hockey community, both for the Rangers and the Hudson Valley High Scool Hockey League.
And that's a pretty darn great community to be a part of in my book.
September 28, 2012