The Rangers last won the Stanley Cup in 1994. Four years later, however, the team fell into a bit of a rut, as they went on to miss the playoffs seven seasons in a row between 1997 and 2004. Those seven years remain, to this day, the longest stretch in franchise history without at least one trip to the postseason. Along the way, though, there were some players who weren’t exactly stars, but still recognizable names in their own right, who came through New York during those years.
This is part one of the “Remember Them in Blue” series, where we will look back at some of the more “random,” perhaps even forgotten players who called Madison Square Garden their home during the not-so glory days in New York of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
This guy was an enforcer through and through, who never shied away from a fight. Just search his name on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean. Sandy McCarthy played in 736 NHL games in his career, and registered 148 points during that time. And while he may not have been an offensive power house, the right-winger did average over two penalty minutes per game throughout his career, with 1,534 PIM’s in total.
McCarthy started his career with the Calgary Flames, and proceeded to venture across the NHL, playing for the Lightning, Flyers, Hurricanes, Rangers, and Bruins. McCarthy spent three seasons playing in New York from 2000-2003, before he left the Rangers for 37 games during the ’03-’04 season when he signed with the Bruins over the summer. But when Boston waived McCarthy at the 2004 trade deadline, he returned to the Rangers for what became the final 13 games of his NHL career.
What some may forget, is that McCarthy was also a two-time Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award recipient. The award is given out yearly to the Ranger player who goes “above and beyond,” as voted upon by the fans.
Yes, that’s right. The man who is now the head of the NHL’s department of player safety was, at one point, a New York Ranger. Quintal, who netted 243 points over 1,320 NHL games for six different NHL teams during his career, joined the Rangers for the 1999-2000 season. Quintal, the Boucherville, PQ native, played 75 games at the Rangers blue line that season, and posted two goals and 14 assists, for 16 points.
As the stay at home defenseman that he was as he never reached the 30 point mark, Quintal may never be remembered for his flashy play on the ice, or really even remembered as a New York Ranger, but he’s now in a highly visible position in the NHL, and we’ll be hearing from him – or his office – often during this, and future seasons.
Jan Hlavac spent the majority of his career playing outside the NHL, and until last season, he was still active playing professional hockey in both Sweden and the Czech Republic. But Hlavac, the Czech native, played three seasons with the Rangers; two between 1999 and 2001, and then another in 2003-04.
In his rookie year in 1999, Hlavac played on the “Czech-mate line” alongside fellow Czech’s Radek Dvorak and Petr Nedved. During his second season in New York, Hlavac had a breakout year where he scored an NHL career-high 28 goals, and amassed a professional high in points with 64.
Hlavac never was able to reach such numbers again in the NHL, and after his 18 game stint with the Nashville Predators during the 2007-08 season, Hlavac headed across the pond, and never played another NHL game in his career.
Talk about a beauty, with an even better name. While Kasparaitis, originally from Lithuania, never exactly turned heads with his offensive contributions, he was a tough, hard-hitting defenseman who also had a leadership side to him. During his third season with the Rangers in ’05-‘06, the Rangers were without a captain. In turn, Kasparaitis was appointed to serve as an alternate captain alongside Jaromir Jagr and Steve Rucchin for that campaign, but when Brendan Shanahan arrived the following season, Kasparaitis was stripped of his “A,” and eventually waived by the Rangers.
What many fans also may not know, though, is that in the league’s first season back following the ’04-’05 lockout, Kasparaitis was the brains behind the Rangers’ salute to their fans following wins at home. The salute, which had the team skate to center ice and raise their sticks to the fans in appreciation, is still in existence today, and many teams have also followed suit in recent years. During the ’05-’06 season, Kasparaitis was the one who, after each and every win, led the team to the center ice logo.
He may not have spent the golden years of his career in New York, but he certainly left his mark in Rangerstown.
Why am I mentioning RJ Umberger in the same sentence as Martin Rucinsky? Well, because on March 9, 2004, Rucinsky was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for RJ Umberger and Martin Grenier. While neither of those guys ever suited up for a single game with the Rangers, Rucinsky most certainly did.
Rucinsky, now 43, never did play a full season with the Rangers, but was on the New York roster at three different points during his career. After playing primarily with the Quebec Nordiques during the early years of his tenure in the NHL, Rucinsky settled in with the Montreal Canadiens, where he scored more than 20 goals four times in seven seasons. But Rucinsky was traded from Montreal to Dallas in 2001, and when things didn’t pan out in Dallas, he was again moved in March of 2002, this time to the Rangers.
After finishing the season in New York, he then signed in St. Louis with the Blues during the ensuing offseason. After one season in the Midwest, Rucinsky again returned to Broadway, but just like two years earlier, Rucinsky again departed, this time for Vancouver.
Finally, during the 2005 offseason, Rucinsky signed with the Blueshirts for the last time. During the 2005-06 season, the Czech winger played in 52 games, and collected 16 goals and 39 assist for 59 points.
Martin Rucinsky’s time in New York was disjointed to say the least, but what many may not realize, is that not only did he win an Olympic Gold medal with the Czech Republic in Nagano during the 1998 winter games, he is also the only player still active in professional hockey to have played with the Quebec Nordiques. Rucinsky is currently playing with Litvinov HC in the Czech Republic.
Fear Not, We’ll Have More
There have been plenty of well-established professional hockey players who have come through the Rangers organization at one point or another. This is just the beginning, as we go back in time to remember some of the non-household names that played for the Rangers during their seven year playoff drought during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. We’ll be sure to “Remember Them in Blue.”
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.