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Monday, December 5, 2011

Guest Writer: What's It Like To Be A Rangers Fan Stuck in the South? Better Now That We're Winning...

I frequently have to admit that I very much live in the wrong part of the country to be an avid hockey fan - south Mississippi. It's football country, and there's no escaping the pigskin preference. On Fridays, the talk of the town is high school football. On Saturdays, college (and lucky me, I live in a college town. They won their championship today, whoop-di-do.) Of course, Sundays and Monday nights bring the NFL (along with a facebook news feed inundated with cries of “Who Dat?” With New Orleans only about 90 miles away, I can't escape it!) Despite the fact that I an part of an overwhelming minority, my love of hockey, and the Rangers in particular, is unwavering. For 17 years I've watched the game and tried to discuss it with with anyone who will listen. Around here, that's not too many people.

Well, with that brief introduction and short rant out of the way, all I've got to say is, “Holy CRAP, is this how it feels to like a team that's more than just mediocre?!” If so, I am LOVING it! We're a quarter of the way through the season and the Rangers are ranked third in the league. It's all so new and emotionally confusing. All of this “solid team effort” stuff, it's been crazy to watch for a fan base that always expects to hit inevitable speed bumps. Rangers fans are used to one or two consistent guys who are inevitably going to get injured in late January. It's insane. At the start of the season, I talked and talked (to anybody around me who would listen, which I already explained totals about four people) about how I had high hopes for our Blueshirts this year. But let's face it, I say that every year. Every new season brings me promise and then pitfalls. This year though, our wishes seem to be the Rangers' command.

So to be a little more specific and a little less fan-girl, let's discuss the specifics further. Callahan came out of the gate proving that he was meant to lead and hasn't slowed down since. I would love to see Lundqvist with the “C”, but as a self professed goalie groupie up against the NHL's official rules, my biased opinion was certainly improbable. Cally's play has been physical and aggressive without being distracting, and his 10 goals on the season so far are tied with Richards for second most on the team. Gaborik leads the team with 12 tallys after deciding to show up for the games this year. A healthy Gaborik is a huge plus for our offense, despite how infuriating he could be at times last year. Richards seems to be doing exactly what the Rangers are paying him for - generating excitement and masterminding our offensive output. He sets up plays just as well as he puts pucks in the net.

After last year's break-out season, Dubinsky has disappointed some people with his numbers so far. Despite not scoring the goals we'd like to expect from him, he still plays an insanely solid game and has made some key assists in big spots. Plus, with Stepan streaking his way to superstar status, nobody seems to be dwelling too much on Dubinsky. Prust also isn't doing much offensively, but he still knows how to get things going and bring the energy level up to 11. Philly game, 4 seconds in, dropping the gloves? That's what I'm freaking talking about. That's what a real Ranger does when his team needs a spark. How about this Carl Hagelin kid? Where'd this kid come from? Wait, who cares, he's fast and he's talented, along with his fellow Whale linemate Mitchell. As of right now, there are only two Rangers on the roster who haven't scored a goal this season, and each of them has an excuse (Wolski is on IR, and Stralamn's only suited up for one game in a blueshirt). We've been getting contributions from multiple players and multiple lines game in and game out this season, and clearly, it's a system that works. Even Biron has been nearly perfect in his starts because let's face it, we fans need to blame our whole team for that lackluster effort displayed in Montreal a couple weeks back. I could go on, but for the sake of not boring anyone, I think I've made my point - we're now a damn good hockey team.

It's still early, but dare I hope that this year may be different? Maybe come April I can look forward to something other than a disappointing, yet totally expected, first round exit. Maybe 17 years of torture and heartbreak will pay off in early June. I know I can, but I don't really want to deal with another manic, roller coaster ride of a season. Sure, I'll just be back in the same place next season even if the roof collapses on our seemingly promising season, but it sure would be nice to have something to brag about for a change. Please, boys in blue? Consider it the Christmas wish of a misplaced hockey fan stuck in pigskin country.

By Kelly Caldwell

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