You might be asking yourself: How could a thrilling, come-from-behind victory in a shootout leave the Garden faithful anything but ecstatic?
Well, for several Rangers fans, Thursday night’s game against the Coyotes meant much more than a chance to see one of the league’s exciting young teams from the West.
For many, it was a chance to watch one of their favorite players skate at Madison Square Garden once again — and I’m not talking about Derek Morris or Lauri Korpikoski either.
No, for a copious amount of Rangers fans, Dec. 16, 2010, meant one thing: The return of Petr Prucha — until Nov. 26, that was.
Unfortunately for Prucha and his fans alike, the former Blueshirt was sent down to San Antonio of the AHL just weeks before he was set to make his return to New York.
“I circled Dec. 16 back when the schedule came out in July looking forward to Prucha’s return,” said Rangers fan Kerri Faithful, who was looking forward to Thursday’s game more than any other on the 2010 schedule. “Because of my adoration for Prucha, I followed the Coyotes after his trade and grew to really love the team as a whole. Since we see them so infrequently, I was anxious to see my favorite Western Conference team and my favorite hockey player!”
It’s been over a year since Prucha has played at the Garden, which was the only time Rangers fans have seen him live since being traded in 2009.
“This day had become more to me than simply getting an autograph from a favorite player,” said season ticket holder Allyson Gronowitz. “I wanted Prucha to realize how much we, as Rangers fans, still appreciate and love him.”
Although the 28-year-old Czech only played parts of four seasons with the Rangers, his impact on the fans was certainly a lasting impression.
“Prucha epitomizes what I love about hockey,” Gronowitz added. “He’s certainly not the biggest guy, but he’s a passionate, feisty player, and he’s all about heart.”
“Prucha is one of the all-effort, hard-working players that helped reintroduce me to hockey post-lockout,” said Faithful, who claims she lost touch with hockey during the lockout season. “Prucha is relentless and is always fun to see play because every move he makes is a surprise. This may drive a strategy-oriented coach like Tom Renney crazy, but for fans it is pure joy to watch.”
The fact that Prucha scored 52 goals over his first two seasons as a Ranger was only part of his game that made fans adore him. Prucha, who plays the game like he is six-foot-five, 240 pounds, leaves every part of himself on the ice, every shift. Despite being on the receiving end of some of the most cringe-inducing hits, Prucha had the uncanny ability to bounce back up and throw himself right back into the mix like nothing happened.
For whatever reason, Prucha’s relentless style of play and fearless approach didn’t translate to what former head coach Tom Renney wanted out of his players. Prucha saw his minutes cut dramatically following his rookie season when he scored 30 goals — the first Rangers rookie to do so since Tony Amonte netted 35 in ’92 — until the end of his tenure on Broadway.
Since being sent down to the AHL, the former eighth-round pick has rekindled his scoring ways, scoring six goals and adding four helpers, while skating in 10 games with the San Antonio Rampage.
Despite his recent success, it’s hard to imagine Prucha (who is an unrestricted free agent this season) to be called back up to the NHL, despite what GM Don Maloney says.
Even though there isn’t a spot for him on the current Rangers’ roster, were the Coyotes to chance putting Prucha on re-entry waivers, some fans would jump at the opportunity to claim him.
“When I heard that he was put on waivers, every second I hoped the Rangers would pick him up,” said life-long Rangers fan Danielle Cella, who’s pictured at the top sporting her Prucha jersey that she bought just three weeks into his rookie season. “I know [the Rangers claiming him] is unlikely, though.”
Gronowitz joked, “the only place Prucha would fit on the current Rangers’ roster was if he took up his old seat in the press box.”