Twenty years is a long time. Much has changed since 1994 in the NHL and on the New York sports landscape. Back then, a Canadian team (Montreal Canadiens) was the defending Stanley Cup champion and save for that franchise, most other “Original Six” clubs were dealing with their own curses and title droughts. Darryl Sutter was coaching the Chicago Blackhawks, the Barry Melrose/Wayne Gretzky Los Angeles Kings were defending Western Conference Champions. The chants of “1940” and “1918” still meant something in New York, as the failings of the New York Rangers and the “Curse of the Bambino” were still intact.
The 1993-94 season marked the final coaching season and the final throes of the Al Arbour New York Islanders. Conversely, it was the first season of Jacques Lemaire and the rising New Jersey Devils. They played 84 games in those days and fans and the league had yet to experience serious labor pains.
A lot has changed over the course of the past 20 years, when those who didn’t live it, couldn’t even imagine a time when the two franchises playing in Manhattan, were the toast of the town. The hockey Rangers hoisting the Cup on the shoulders of a guarantee by Captain Mark Messier. The fellow tenant, the NBA New York Knickerbockers came up a game short, never realizing a title guarantee of the many made by Patrick Ewing.
Making his debut on the Island was Ziggy Palffy. Winning the Calder Trophy in the Meadowlands was Martin Brodeur. Although the New Jersey Nets would eventually reach the finals twice and move to Brooklyn, it was the last season that the promising Chuck Daily Nets of Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, would reach the NBA playoffs.
Speaking of the Meadowlands, Giants Stadium was still called Giants Stadium. Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms and the final remnants of the Bill Parcells New York Giants, had just finished their final season and Michael Strahan has just finished his first. Instead of “Boomer and Carton,” on WFAN, it was Boomer and Carroll with the New York Jets, Esiason the quarterback and Pete the coach, manning the sidelines where he would win a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks, 20 years later.
In baseball, the defending champion was also a Canadian team (Toronto Blue Jays) and Montreal also boasted the team with the best record in the sport. The New York Mets were still in a downward spiral (okay some things never change) and it was the final season in Flushing for Dwight Gooden, the final link to the glory days of the 1980’s. Over in the Bronx, the baseball team with the longer title drought but on the rise was the New York Yankees. It wasn’t his last shot but up until the strike, the best shot at a World Series title for Don Mattingly. Bernie Williams was an emerging star. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte played in New York that year… in Albany.
Out in Western New York, it was the revving up of “The Dominator” with the Buffalo Sabres and the winding down of the 4-straight AFC Champion Buffalo Bills.
Yes, a lot has changed in 20 years since the Rangers won the Cup. Craig MacTavish was the last player without a helmet to win a Cup. Glenn Healy was the goalie wearing number 30 for the Blueshirts. Jeff Beukeboom is now an assistant coach with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. Stephane Matteau’s son, Stefan, plays for the Devils. Messier, Mike Richter, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves all have their numbers retired and hanging in the rafters at Madison Square Garden. Alex Kovalev was the final player from that team to skate in the NHL, in 2012-13 with the Florida Panthers.
Now 20 years later, with the rest of the New York sports scene seemingly in flux, the Rangers are back in the spotlight, the best hope of a title team for the city that never sleeps.