Rangers: the passing of the torch in net

By Russ Cohen

Vanbiesbrouck was once the young phenom and “fan favorite” goaltender of the
New York Rangers until Mike Richter came along. Richter turned into the backbone
of the franchise and for 14 seasons gave everything he had to the fans and the
team. His last concussion took its toll on the great netminder and forced him to
hang up the skates prematurely.

mood at MSG was somber during the retirement announcement because it was clear
that the pride of Flourtown, PA wasn’t quite ready to call it a career.

feel a great deal of sadness because I have to give up something that I truly
love,” said a teary Richter. “But at the same time I feel very grateful for
this very gift to which I owe so much.”

was the 28th overall pick in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft by the
Blueshirts and never left the Rangers franchise. He possessed lightning speed
and was as athletic as any goaltender who ever played the game, even after two
torn ACL’s, one right and one left. His post-to-post quickness was unmatched
by any of his contemporaries.

back on Richter’s career achievements give you an appreciation for what he
accomplished between the pipes. He has been America’s goalie since 1991 when
he was named a starter to the Canada Cup. Then he helped the United States steal
the 1996 World Cup and won the tournament MVP. In 2002 he appeared in his third
Olympic games and helped Team USA capture a silver medal with a 2.25 goals
against average. This is easily makes Richter the greatest American goalie ever.

consistency was something that always stood out,” said teammate Eric Lindros
at the retirement. “In the ’96 World Cup, I think we were in Montreal for
the final game, he stood on his head. In my eyes he won it for the American
team. We threw everything at him and he was just spectacular.”

three-time All-Star never won a Vezina but he also played in an era with Patrick
Roy, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur. Whenever Richter was on the biggest stage
he performed at his best. In 1994 the Rangers finally regained the Stanley Cup,
but before Stephane Matteau scored the double overtime goal against the New
Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, Richter held his team in Game 7.
And who can forget when he stoned Pavel Bure in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals
on a penalty shot (stopped 10 of 11 in his career). It was the same kind of stop
that Richter made on Bure earlier that year in the NHL All-Star Game on a
breakaway (was voted All-Star MVP).

especially in tight with his deke handling,” said Lindros. “I don’t think
that there are too many guys better than Pavel Bure in a situation like that.
Come crunch time he was better than Pavel in that particular situation.”

brought such a positive energy into the locker room,” said Brian Leetch. “I
know New York has always been a bit of a goalie crowd and have been behind their
goalies…he stepped right into that mold with his hard work, acrobatics and his
big-time play…the fans supported him right from the start.”

has most of the club’s goaltending records, so it’s no surprise that his
number will be retired by the club on February 4th.

Filling Richter’s Shoes

Dunham, acquired from Nashville, is the clear-cut starter for the 2003-04
season.  The back up position has a
bit more drama to it.

the offseason, the Rangers acquired Edmonton backup Jussi Markkanen, who played
in the 2002 Olympics for Finland and has just 36 NHL games under his belt. He
could fit into the franchise’s future plans. Rangers coach and general manager
Glen Sather is familiar with his talent but at 28, he’s too old to be a
prospect. Markkanen is likely to start the season in Hartford of the AHL.

is the future franchise goaltender. He had a few seasons to learn from
Mike Richter and he is unfazed by the bright lights of New York City. Blackburn
has a very quick glove hand, but needs to work on his positioning.

Rangers defense has been pitiful the past few seasons so Blackburn’s
statistics are a bit misleading. He is improving every game. There is a reason
that he has been with the big club since they drafted him 10th
overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

2004-05 season, if there is one, should be Blackburn’s coming out party, when
he takes over as the No. 1 goalie. That tag should last around ten years or so
barring any major injury. He already showed his durability by playing 17
straight games last season.

goaltenders in the system include Jason Labarbera, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonas
and Brandon Snee.  None
are expected to make a big impact.  If
the team’s defense improves they already have that goaltender in place to
start forming a winner sometime in the near future.