A COAT, A CURSE AND THE CUP
June 14, 2020
On the morning of June 14, 1994, I looked into my closet and took out what I thought was my sharpest looking suit: an olive green double breasted Joseph Abboud. This was serious business. In a few hours the New York Rangers were going to be playing game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers were trying to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1940 and hoping to end the 54 year “curse.” And so, I had to look sharp. It was going to be an historic night, one way or the other. No time for jeans and a t shirt.
The New York Knicks and the New York Rangers were the teams of my youth. The beautiful Knicks of Reed and Frazier, Bradley and DeBusschere, Barnett and Cazzie Russell were the epitome of team and the class of the NBA, winning two championships in four years. The Rangers were good, very good, but not quite good enough to lift the most historic trophy in North American team sports. But we loved them: Ed Giacomin, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, Arnie Brown, Walt Tkaczuk and my main man then and now, Rod Gilbert. We lived and died with them, only to see them fall in the spring to the Bruins and the Black Hawks and the Canadiens and the Flyers and eventually the Islanders.
The Rangers had enjoyed a remarkable regular season in 1993-94 led by Mark Messier, easily handled the Islanders and Capitals in the first two rounds of the playoffs and survived a seven game marathon against the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, one of the greatest playoff series in NHL history. And then the Vancouver Canucks won games five and six of the Final to force the Rangers to confront the two best words in sports: game seven.
I have no memory of much of the day. It is rare for a member of the Mishkin family to not recall a meal, but breakfast and lunch that day were a mere rumor. The Rangers were playing for the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden in a game seven. Couldn’t chance food poisoning. This was serious business. After a shower and shave, I put on the Joseph Abboud suit and headed from the Upper West Side to MSG.
Those who have followed the Rangers for more than a few years always expect something to get in the way of something good. The list of injuries that derailed good Rangers seasons in the past is too long to delineate here. Suffice it to say, we’ve seen it before. And so, with that history in mind and a vision of sitting in a stalled subway train for six hours, I went to the Garden early. How early? The game was scheduled to start at 8. I got there at 2:15. Sure, there were pre game live shots for me to do for NY1 where I was working at the time. I got there three hours before these were scheduled to air. But what else was there to do that day? Wait around at the apartment for something to fall and break your ankle? And again, the much feared subway derailment from hell? Why not get to the Garden and just start walking around the building and taking in the atmosphere? And so I did.
I have one vivid pre game memory. In the press room, the former Rangers defenseman Harry Howell was holding court. Howell was a solid defenseman for the Rangers in the fifties and sixties. After winning the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in 1967, Howell was quoted as saying that he was happy he won it because Bobby Orr was going to “own” the award for a long time, one of the great predictions because Orr went on to win it for eight straight years. On the night of June 14, 1994, Howell was regaling us with stories. With the 54 year “curse” on everyone’s mind, Howell said “here’s how old I am. My first year at training camp, the owner came in and said ‘boys, we have to win the Stanley Cup this year. 12 years is too long.’” And then Howell cracked up laughing. Harry Howell died in 2019. A blessed memory.
The memories of the actual game are clear, but I’m not sure if that’s because I was there or because I’ve watched the replay on TV several times: Rangers score twice in the first period, Vancouver gets a goal in the second, Messier scores to make it 3-1, Vancouver comes back to make it 3-2 and the Rangers hold on. Late in the third, Vancouver’s Nathan Lafayette got a rebound and tried to tie the score at 3. In person, it looked like the Rangers goaltender Mike Richter made yet another spectacular save. On the replay it showed that Lafayette’s shot hit the left post. For years after that night, I would cover Knicks games and see the nets stored in a hallway in one of the nooks and crannies at the Garden. And each time I touched the left post on each net. Nobody more superstitious than hockey players and fans. The gentle touch of each left post, as if to say “nicely done.”
And then, the waiting was over, as Sam Rosen so eloquently called it on TV. The Garden was a mixture of celebration and relief and tears of joy. But there were also tears of sadness, for those who watched with us growing up and schlepped us to the Garden for our one game each year, those who were not around to see the Rangers finally win the Cup. Near the end of the game, I made my way down from the press box to ice level. The thought was that perhaps the camera person and I could make our way onto the ice for interviews, a notion that was quickly disabused. But as I stood there in the final seconds of the game and the first seconds of the New York Rangers as Stanley Cup champions, I realized that I was standing next to my sports hero of my childhood, Rod Gilbert. After a thousand games listened to on the radio and watched on TV or at the Garden, he was standing right next to me at the greatest moment in franchise history. He knew me a bit from my television work and so I turned to him and said “you and all of your teammates are part of that Cup.” His smile is etched in my memory.
And then, the post game, which is really game time for reporters. The game ended just after 11 and the on ice celebration (“Mark Messier, come get the Stanley Cup”) went on for a while. NY1’s live post game show from the Garden was going to start at 12 midnight and go until 2AM. We were still a relatively new station at the time, less than two years old. But I had covered a boatload of Knicks and Rangers regular season and playoff games that season so I knew my way around the place and the people who worked there. One of NY1’s tech people, Marc Hopmayer, arranged for us to have a live shot location between the two dressing rooms (hockey term for locker rooms). It was a location that would have been the envy of any network, right in the middle of the action, so we were able to grab more than a few players for interviews. While my colleague Kevin Garrity was in the Rangers dressing room where champagne was flowing from the Stanley Cup, I was anchoring our coverage from our live location. The Joseph Abboud suit still looked sharp.
One moment from that post game stands out. It’s hard to describe to younger generations the role that Marv Albert played for those of us who grew up with the Knicks and Rangers in the late sixties and early seventies. Most home games were on something called cable television and only a few thousand homes in Manhattan had it. So for millions of us in the New York area, the only way to follow both teams when they played at home was on the radio, listening to Marv while you did your homework. And his was the perfect voice for those teams and the exciting times. Marv had largely ceded his radio hockey work in 1994 to the great Howie Rose, but Marv did a part of the Game 7 radio broadcast. After the game, I came out from our live location to his radio booth and asked if he could come down and do an interview with us when he was finished. He nodded yes. As our post game show continued, the Stanley Cup goaltender Mike Richter walked by and asked me nonchalantly “do you need me?” In post game parlance, that means “do you need me for an interview?” The Rangers had just won the Cup for the first time in 54 years and Richter was a major reason why. Yes, I think I needed him. So Richter stopped and was waiting for us to come out of a commercial for the interview. At the same time, Marv came down from his radio booth, saw Richter and joked in that voice I’d listened to for thousands of nights as a kid, “oh great, now I have to wait.” And he smiled. So here I am, with Richter in the batter’s box and Marv on deck, waiting for me. And in that moment, I thought “take it in. For all of the ups and downs, the doubt and dismay, the long nights and little pay, you’re here at the Garden and about to interview Mike Richter and the voice of your youth Marv Albert.” It is a memory that has never been forgotten.
For the second hour of our show, we had to relocate to a spot in the stands overlooking the ice at the Garden. When the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup is recalled, the names first mentioned are usually the stars: the captain Mark Messier, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner (playoffs MVP) Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and fan favorite Adam Graves. But the player I recall who spoke most eloquently about what that night meant was a defenseman, Jay Wells. Wells started playing in the NHL in 1979. By 1994, it had been 15 years without the opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup. And then on June 14, 1994, it happened. He hoisted the Cup. A few hours later, showered (presumably) and dressed, he stood next to me in the stands at the Garden with tears in his eyes, discussing his parents and family back on the farm in Paris, Ontario and the sacrifices they endured so that he could realize his dream and play in the NHL. And finally, that summer, he would have the chance to bring the Stanley Cup to Paris, Ontario. Beautiful.
And then, it was over. Kind of. We packed up our gear and grabbed a cab back to NY1 at 2:30 in the morning. And then I started working in studio on the story that would appear throughout the day on NY1 on June 15th. Ordinarily, TV news stories run 1:30 or 2 minutes. My story about the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup? Five minutes and 18 seconds. I figured “how often do the Rangers win the Stanley Cup (at this point, once in 80 years!)?” So I let it fly and then appeared live on the set at 5AM and 6AM. My first all nighter since college. I finally finished up work at around 8AM but didn’t want the evening to end. So my friend Joe Cosgriff (a season ticket holder) met me for breakfast and we replayed the game and tried on the feeling of the New York Rangers as Stanley Cup champions, something we feared might not happen in our lifetimes. It felt just fine.
Two days later on June 17th, the Rangers were celebrated during a parade up the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan. I was along the parade route, interviewing fans and eventually players during NY1’s live coverage of the parade. It was hot, really hot but the mood was celebratory. After the parade, we returned to NY1 and cooled off. Suddenly, our sports producer Marc Weingarten burst in and said “the Cup is downstairs!” MTV produced some of its shows on the first floor of the National Video Building, then the home of NY1. Marc’s plan was to take a bunch of NY1 staffers down to the first floor and to keep the Cup (and the Rangers players with it) from leaving the building after their spot on MTV and come upstairs for an interview on NY1. And so Rangers players Glenn Healy and Nick Kypreos were cajoled into coming upstairs with the Cup. In the elevator, Kypreos was carrying the Cup and fidgeting for something in his pocket. My recollection is that he looked at me and said something to the effect of “would you hold this for a second?” He was referring to the Cup. And there it was…I was holding the Stanley Cup. The belief in hockey is that you should not hold the Cup unless you’ve won it. So no player who hasn’t won the Cup will touch the chalice. But Kypreos asked so nicely. What was I to say? I obliged. Before the interview started with my then NY1 colleague Steve Cangialosi, Kypreos showed me the inside of the Cup where a few rebels had stenciled their names. Inside stuff about the Stanley Cup. It was priceless.
I think about June 14, 1994 a lot. There is an old adage that I take seriously: no cheering in the press box. It’s a motto that is not hard to follow. You are there to do a job, a job that does not include jumping up and down and cheering like you’re ten years old. Some may find it hard to believe that my prime emotion that night was not happiness because the team of my youth had finally reached the mountaintop. It was more a feeling of astonishment. I couldn’t quite believe that on that historic night in New York, after a childhood of rooting and years of heartbreak, after more than a few hills and valleys in my professional career, I was actually in the building when the Rangers won the Cup. How fortunate was I. I felt that way all those years ago. And still to this day.
A few years ago, I was cleaning out my closet. When I came upon the coat from the Joseph Abboud double breasted olive green suit that I wore on June 14, 1994, my wife asked “do you still wear that?” I replied “no.” She indicated we could get rid of it because I no longer wore it. To which I replied “but this is the coat I wore on the night the Rangers won the Stanley Cup!” She repeated her question. I repeated my answer. She understood.
I still have the coat.