The Winter Olympics, which is surely the greatest collection of hockey talent in the world, is now less than a week away. This year’s tournament—which will take place in Sochi, Russia—is expected to be one of the most competitive in recent memory, with as many as four nations—the Canadians, Russians, Swedes and Americans—all expecting to bring home gold medals.
The New York Rangers will be sending seven representatives to Sochi this coming weekend, a figure that is tied for fifth most in the NHL. Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan will represent the USA, Henrik Lundqvist and Carl Hagelin will skate for Sweden, Rick Nash returns to the Canadian side in defense of its gold medal, and Mats Zuccarello will too make his second straight appearance at the Winter Games for Norway.
In Nash and Lundqvist, the Rangers have two gold-medal winners in their ranks, but they’re not the only Blueshirts to have seen success at the Olympics through the years.
There have been several, and in celebration and anticipation of 22nd Winter Olympics, we today present to you the five greatest Olympians in Rangers history.
Brian Leetch, the Rangers’ ninth overall selection of the 1986 NHL entry draft, was not only the greatest player in the franchise’s history, but he was also a three-time Olympian.
The 1988 Winter Games was actually the fifth tournament Leetch represented the United States at, having appeared in a handful of IIHF World Junior Championships among other events prior to the Games. But back in '88, NHL players were not yet allowed to compete in the Olympics, and thus Leetch, who had not seen action at the professional level, was selected for the team.
Although the United States failed to escape group play, Leetch impressed, scoring one goal and adding five helpers in six games.
Ten years later, the NHL began sending its players to the Winter Games, and so Leetch was given a second opportunity to claim gold.
The 1998 games took place in Nagano, Japan, and in four games, Leetch recorded two points. The Americans as a whole struggled and were bounced in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic.
Leetch’s most eventful Olympics took place four years later in Salt Lake City. The Americans stormed to the finals, where they would meet the Canadians who, behind the star power of Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, dismissed Team USA, 5-2.
Leetch recorded five assists in six matchups in those 2002 Games, but his silver medal and three Olympic appearances remain his most impressive accolades.
Although he made just 51 appearances for the Rangers, Pavel Bure remains one of the organization’s most accomplished Olympians.
Bure’s first Olympic appearance for his native Russia came in the 1998 Games. It was the first time Bure had played for his country since he famously left his former Russian team CSKA Moscow after the 1990-91 season.
In '98, Russia was a powerhouse, and Bure led the way. In six matches, the Russian Rocket, who was named team captain, potted nine goals and led his nation to the gold-medal game, although the Russians were eventually defeated at the hands of the Czechs.
Four years later, Bure would again represent the Russians at the Salt Lake City Games. This time around, Bure only registered two goals and one assist, but his nation still managed to medal and won the bronze-medal game 7-2 over Belarus.
Although Bure has no gold medals to show for his two Olympic appearances, he does possess two other medals. Plus his nine-goal performance in 1998 is staggering.
The King of New York, as he’s known around these parts, is also a hero in his native Sweden.
2006 was a special year for Lundqvist, because not only was it his rookie season—one in which he would be nominated for both the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) and the Vezina Trophy (outstanding goaltender)—but also because he was selected to play for Sweden at the Olympic Games in Turin.
At the time, the Swedes were not deep in terms of goaltending, so Lundqvist basically assumed the starting position.
But, as we know, Hank has nerves of steel and had no problem dealing with the immense pressure of carrying a nation on his shoulders. In six games, Lundqvist posted a 5-1 record with a 2.33 goals-against average (GAA) and proved to be the backbone of a team that would go on to win the gold medal.
It was storybook stuff for the rookie.
2010 proved to be not as successful for both the Swedes and Lundqvist. Despite winning its group, Sweden lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals, 4-3. Lundqvist saw three games, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.34 GAA.
As mentioned earlier, Lundqvist will partake in his third Olympic Games in Sochi next week. His Swedish side is considered a contender yet again.
Jaromir Jagr will, amazingly, be participating in his fifth Olympic Games in 2014, an amazing feat, despite the fact that he now plays for the Rangers cross-river rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
Jagr, too, never represented his native Czech Republic until the 1998 Games in Nagano. He scored one goal and added five helpers in his debut, and the Czechs claimed the gold for the first time ever.
2002 proved more difficult for the Czechs, as they failed to reach the podium, but Jagr again had a strong showing and recorded five points in four games.
Four years later, Jagr and the Czechs returned to fighting form and won a chance to play in the bronze-medal game. There the Czechs met the Russians, whom they defeated in 3-0 fashion. Jagr again played a major part, scoring three times and adding six assists in seven games.
2010 was Jagr’s fourth Games, and at them, he turned 38 years old. At the time, Jagr had retreated to Russia to play out what was believed to be the final years of his career, and the fact that he was even selected to the Czech team came as a surprise to many North American fans. Nonetheless, Jagr looked good and scored twice and added one assist in five games, but the Czechs lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual bronze-medal winners, the Fins.
At 41, Jagr will again spend a birthday at the Olympic Games in 2014. The likelihood of him carrying his country to glory is slim, but it will be interesting to see if he can add to his impressive Olympic stats, which currently read seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 23 games.
Had to be, right?
Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 United States men’s hockey team that achieved the “Miracle on Ice,” defeating the almighty Soviets in the semifinals and eventually the Fins in the finals, was in fact a Rangers coach, if some of the younger audience hadn’t already known.
Brooks became a commodity after those Games, and the Rangers were one of the more interested parties. He joined the club ahead of the 1981-82 season and led the Rangers to a second-place finish, although they would eventually lose in the second round.
The team would again lose in the second round in 1982-83 and then the first round in 1983-84. Amazingly, all three playoff defeats came at the hands of the reeling New York Islanders.
Midway through the succeeding 1984-85 season, Brooks was fired after 45 games.
After coaching a couple of teams in the late '80s and early '90s, Brooks was without work until the 1999-2000 season, when he took the head coaching job with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brooks would eventually be fired after 57 games.
But two years later, Brooks would make a fantastic return to Olympic hockey. He was named coach of the American team that would host the 2002 Winter Games. And, for the cherry on top, Brooks was able to lead the USA to a silver medal, the first time the country had medaled since 1980, when he was boss.