More than 18,000 people so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
No one was moving. Even the air seemed to stay still.
All eyes were fixated on the ice. Fans. Members of the New York Rangers organization. The entire Carolina Hurricanes team.
Everyone united together, because a few feet in front of the Zamboni door entrance, dressed in police blues, was Detective Steven McDonald.
“What a great night, thank you,” he said as he addressed Madison Square Garden on April 8, 2014. “We hockey fans are told they’re no easy victories in the NHL – who knows better than the New York Rangers and their fans. But together, we’ll push each other, drive each other and G-d willing the Stanley Cup will be waiting on this journey.
“If I might ask, the other night we were reminded what it means to perform above and beyond the call of duty when two of my brother, sisters, New York City police officers were overcome by flames and smoke – and they were saved by members of the FDNY. So Coach Vigneault, the NY Rangers, just remember that. What it means to perform above and beyond for the next two months.”
Rest In Peace Steven McDonald.
Our friend. Our hero. Above and beyond. pic.twitter.com/6xOHSGnlyO
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 10, 2017
More than 30 years ago, McDonald was a 29-year-old police officer working in Central Park in Manhattan. Only two years on the job, he was shot three times by 15-year-old Shavod Jones in July 1986. The shooting left the soon-to-be father paralyzed from the neck down, and sent shock waves throughout the city. His shooting reminded some, and taught others, that the members of the NYPD put their lives at risk every day.
Many would have crumbled under the magnitude of what occurred, but not McDonald. The third-generation police officer turned tragedy into hope. He spoke around the globe and promoted forgiveness – after he forgave his shooter just months after that fateful day.
Detective Steven McDonald Believed in the Rangers, and The Rangers Believed in Him
McDonald’s bravery, strong moral code and love for his city and fellow officers was unmatched. To honor the die-hard Rangers fan, the team created the “Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award” in 1987. That first year it went to Jan Erixon, a player who fulfilled every description of the award – who, according to the Rangers website, “goes above and beyond the call of duty both on and off the ice.”
Thoughts and prayers go out to the McDonald family. Steven McDonald was one of the most courageous and inspiring men l've ever meet.#NYPD
— Jed Ortmeyer (@4ortie1) January 10, 2017
The full list of players who have been honored with this award has included some of the biggest names in the game – Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Henrik Lundqvist. It has also gone to some of the hardest working – Brandon Prust, Sandy McCarthy, Brandon Dubinsky and Mats Zuccarello.
Towards the end of every season McDonald, joined by his wife Patti Anne and son Conor, who would follow his footsteps into the NYPD, delivered a powerful message to the Garden faithful. Everyone listened. His words were always poignant, always inspiring. This was especially true in 2014 when his speech resonated throughout the building, and helped push the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.
So sad to hear about the passing of Steven McDonald today. Winning the award in his honor is one of my most proud accomplishments…
— Brandon Dubinsky (@BDubi17) January 10, 2017
On Tuesday, following a heart attack, McDonald passed away at the age of 59. He leaves behind his family, his fellow officers, his fellow Rangers fans and his beloved city. Every team has an icon, someone who personifies their fan base and their team. The winner of the “Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award” may be voted on by the fans, but its meaning goes so much deeper. While it is given to a player who shows dedication, love of the game and heart – the award was named after the heartbeat of the fan base – Detective Steven McDonald – and he will be missed.
Formerly ESPN, SNY, and SNY.tv.
4-time Emmy winner, 2-time NY Emmy nominee for short-form writing.