Following the Rangers: Lias Andersson and me on TV
When I first started following the Rangers in the early 1990s, I was seven years old. Growing up in the Netherlands, I did not have any friends who followed hockey. It was just me.
Following the Rangers
The reason I liked the Rangers is a weird one. Watching highlights of games, I noticed the Rangers were the only team to not have a logo on their jersey. Of
I would head over to the American bookstore in The Hague regularly to find New York newspapers that had articles about the Rangers and spend my pocket money buying them, so I could read them at home. Without realizing, it helped tremendously to improve my English as a second language.
25 years later, I relocated to Vienna, Austria for work. That move changed everything for me. It gave me the opportunity to see hockey live. Proper hockey. The Czech league is only an hour away, and if I travel 45 minutes east, I can watch KHL hockey in Bratislava. I finally had an opportunity to do what I always wanted as a kid. I started following the Rangers prospects.
The Rangers picked 10 players, in the 2017 and 2018 drafts combined, who would play in Europe after the draft. I have attended games of Tarmo Reunanen, Patrik Virta, Lauri Pajuniemi, Yegor Rykov, Igor Shestyorkin, Dominik Lakatoš, and Filip Chytil. But the three players I have invested the most time in, and who have given me the most in return, are Lias Andersson, Vitali Kravtsov,
After Lias Andersson returned to Sweden in 2017 to play for Frölunda, I checked the schedule for the Champions Hockey League and noticed they were playing in Klagenfurt and Zürich in the group stage. I drove down to Klagenfurt only to realize Lias was sitting out with a neck injury. As disappointed as I was, I still was able to meet him. The first time I saw him play was in Zürich, and a month later, they played in Liberec in the Czech Republic. I drove six hours, attended the game and the team noticed me as the only guy wearing a Frölunda jersey.
Long story short, in the 18 months following my trip to Liberec, I would travel to Linköping (SWE), Buffalo (USA), Pardubice (CZE), Copenhagen (DEN) and Tampa (USA) for more games with Lias in the line-up. In Tampa, I had a sign with me showing the eight games in six different countries he played in and it caught his attention. He skated over, started reading the sign and after a few more laps of shooting the puck, he skated over and tossed a puck over the glass. I felt happy as a kid! For someone who grew up in Europe, this was great. I never had the opportunity as a kid to go to games and see my favorite players.
The last two weeks have been full of excitement and great moments for me as a fan. I met Nils Lundkvist for the second time (I will write about this in the near future) and last weekend I traveled to Calgary. A friend of mine who lives there had tickets to the Rangers game. It’s a long trip. Two flights, 13 hours in total.
On game day, I wanted to go to the Saddledome early. I wanted to take my time to get a good spot for warmups. In Tampa, there were so many fans, it was almost impossible to get a good spot near the glass. I arrived at the arena, walked down and found a spot next to the Rangers bench where I started talking to two British girls who flew over for the Western Canada trip. This was their third Rangers game in a week. We connected based on our passion for the game. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to fly all the way to North America and attend a Rangers game.
The warm-up experience was so much fun this time. Pavel Buchnevich took the time to shoot pucks at the kid to my left who was dressed in full goalie gear. Glove, blocker, pads, helmet. He also took the time to read my sign. The photo get smaller each time, because there’s an extra line of text every game I go to.
Buch skated over to Lias and pointed in my direction. That’s when the most memorable moment of my life as a Rangers fan happened. Lias skates over and takes the time to pose for a photo. Even though I had met him several times, I did not have an opportunity yet to have a photo taken with him. It’s crazy how you just forget to ask the simplest things when meeting your favorite player. But here I was, posing for a photo with Lias. And 30-40 minutes later, my phone is blowing up. “Steve, You’re on TV!!!” and “Oh my god. Sam just mentioned Steven by name”. Twitter, Facebook and even HF Boards were full of messages trying to tell me I was just on TV.
I was sitting in the arena enjoying the game but soon the messages with links to a video came in and I couldn’t believe it. Sam Rosen, the man whose voice has been a part of Rangers hockey for decades actually mentions me by name? I could not believe it.
Two days later, when I got off the plane in Chicago where I had a connecting flight to Vienna, my phone started blowing up with notifications again. Lias Andersson had shared the video and mentioned me on Twitter.
It’s been such an unreal experience. Friends asked me if Lias gave me his stick during warmups as well, but he didn’t. I’ve been asked if I would give up the experience of that Friday in exchange for his game stick and the answer would be “No”. If I could choose between what happened last week or getting my favorite player’s stick for my collection, I would pick this experience every time. Being mentioned on the broadcast is something I never thought would happen. Sam Rosen is a living legend to me as a Rangers fan.
Growing up in Europe, there seems to be such a distance emotionally at times but this weekend I felt closer to the Rangers than ever before. I am forever thankful for this amazing experience and will never forget it. To quote Sam: “This one will last a lifetime”.