Kelly Kisio is the answer to an oft-asked trivia question: who was captain of the Rangers immediately before The Captain, Mark Messier, arrived on Broadway in October of 1991? Kisio was the 21st captain in franchise history (Dec. 24, 1987-May 30, 1991), and was the last man to wear the Blueshirt C before Messier. Kisio was also a remarkably consistent performer in New York, who scored 20+ goals and 60+ points in four straight seasons before an injury-plagued final campaign with the Rangers in 1990-91. In total, Kisio appeared in 761 NHL games for four teams---the Red Wings, Rangers, Sharks, and Flames----and scored 229 goals while amassing 658 points.
Currently the General Manager of the Western Hockey League's Calgary Hitmen, Kelly Kisio recently reminisced about his Rangers career with BlueshirtsUnited.com's Jim Cerny.
BSU: So what's it like to be known as the man who wore the C before The Captain arrived in New York?
KK: Well I always tell the story that my number is up in the rafters at The Garden (Kisio wore Nos. 11 and 16 as a Ranger), but that Messier guy put his name over the top of mine!
BSU: In all seriousness, what was it like to be captain of the New York Rangers?
KK: It was a little daunting, but obviously I was really honored. At the time Ron Greschner had the C and I was a little apprehensive of taking it because Ronny had been captain for a couple of years and I saw no reason as to why he shouldn't continue to have the C. But I was very honored that the team thought of me in that way and believed in me like that. It was almost a full-time job with (head coach) Michel Bergeron on top of me all the time making sure I was helping the guys be ready! It forced me to prepare the right way every day and lead by example.
BSU: When you think of the Rangers, what is the first thing that pops into your mind?
KK: First thing for me is the fans. If you played hard and showed passion for the game the fans appreciated the effort you put in and would cheer for you and hope for you. But I tell you what, if you didn't play hard and didn't show the type of commitment that they showed in their everyday life, they could get you out of there in a hurry. I was lucky because we had some success there. The city is an outstanding place. New York is just a special place.
BSU: When you were traded to New York from the Red Wings (on July 29, 1986) what were your expectations?
KK: People paint New York with a different brush than it should be, and I was a little apprehensive going. Such a big city, and I'm from a town of 5,000 people (Red Deer, Alberta), a little nervous for sure. But we lived upstate (in Westchester) and enjoyed coming downtown, and me and my family quickly came around to loving New York.
BSU: While playing for the Rangers you played on an extremely successful line with Brian Mullen and John Ogrodnick. What clicked so well with you three?
KK: We were basically together for three or four years, playing in all different situations, so we got to know each other's tendencies really well. We knew where each other would be and what the other guy would do with the puck and what he's looking for. When you play together like that, it just becomes instinct. I didn't think. I knew Mully would be streaking here, and Johnny O would be carrying wide. Plus off the ice we were all really good friends. In fact we, and our wives, are all still in contact. That certainly helped, too.
BSU: What do you think was your defining moment at Madison Square Garden?
KK: There was one night where the fans voted for (the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award) and John Vanbiesbrouck and I shared the award (in 1990), and I didn't play that night because we already had our playoff spot and I had to give a speech in front of 18,000 people. I was petrified, but I forged on, and halfway through the speech the Devils came out on to the ice and everybody starting booing! I was like "What's going on?" Then I turned around and saw them and said, "OK, thanks a lot and thank you very much" and got out of there!
BSU: You are a hockey executive now. Did anyone from your Ranger days help inspire your post-playing career?
KK: I think (former Rangers coach) Roger Neilson is someone that I really admired. When he was coaching he was such a level-headed guy, even-keeled and knowledgable. I really learned a lot from him and really enjoyed playing for him, and learning from him.