Despite their ambitions to compete for the Stanley Cup, it has been a slow start for the New York Rangers (8-8-2) in this shortened season. To Rangers legend Mark Messier, who currently serves as a special assistant to Blueshirts president and GM Glen Sather, that record doesn't look so bad in light of injuries.
"We're pretty thrilled to be where we are right now considering the injuries that we have sustained previously," Messier said Wednesday night at the Ice Hockey in Harlem Winter Sports Celebration in Manhattan. "We were moving along OK, a few games above .500. I guess it all depends on how you define someone's start."
The Rangers have been ravaged with injuries this season, although the players haven't used that as an excuse. Already the Rangers have had to play without star forwards Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan, and the defense has been without Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto at times.
The Nash injury has unraveled the Rangers the most. Before Nash missed the past four games with what is still being called an undisclosed injury, the Rangers were 8-5-1 and had won four of their past five, with the lone loss coming in a shootout against the Islanders. Since then, the Rangers are 0-3-1 heading into Thursday's game against Tampa Bay.
"It's not easy to win, this league is very competitive and it's hard to win every night, but the Rangers have had a lot of good games and they've lost some games they probably would like to have back," Rangers icon Brian Leetch said. "They're right in the mix and it's a third of the way through and I look forward to seeing them go forward from here."
Said Messier: "We're confident that once we get ourselves healthy and on track here we can hopefully be one of the teams in the mix at the end."
Leetch, who played with Messier on the Rangers' most recent title team in 1994, was honored by Ice Hockey in Harlem on Wednesday night for his support. Ice Hockey in Harlem is a non-profit organization that aims to help better the social and academic lives of children in the Harlem community, and has more than 200 students involved, aged 4-to-17.
Wednesday night served as a fundraiser and memorabilia auction, with items such as signed jerseys by NHL and NFL players. Other former Rangers who attended included Dave Maloney and Ulf Nilsson.
"It gives them hope and gives them an opportunity to play a game that we've all spent our entire lives playing. We shaped our whole lives around the game of hockey and used it as vehicle to hopefully become better people because of it and the life lessons it's taught us," Messier said. "Ice hockey in Harlem has hopefully given a lot of the kids in the area the same opportunity and there would be nothing better one day than to see someone come out of this program and play in the National Hockey League."