Rangers legends explain underrated reason for 1994 Stanley Cup championship

Syndication: Westchester County Journal News
Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News / USA TODAY NETWORKCredit: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News / USA TODAY NETWORK

Whether it was Mike Hartman or Mark Messier, Eddie Olczyk or Brian Leetch, Glenn Healy or Mike Richter, the players who made up the 1993-94 New York Rangers were on the same page. Stars and role players alike trusted each other, believed in each other. And in the toughest of times, they never wavered in supporting each other.

“Not once did you feel any jealousy in that room,” Stephane Matteau said recently. “There was no pointing fingers when times got tough. … It was a special group of players.”

At the heart was Mark Messier’s inclusive leadership style, and lead-by-example accountability. And it sure helped that his messages were supported and shared by respected veterans Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen and others.

It simply was a special group of players Neil Smith, and Mike Keenan, brought together to ultimately win the first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years.

“Everyone was important,” Mike Richter explained. “Sure, you had ‘Mess’ and ‘Leetchie’ (Brian Leetch), guys like that. Great players. But you’d go to practice, and there’d be ‘Eddie O’ leading the stretch every day and at the end leading the ‘Heave Ho!’ chant. Glenn Healy joking with everybody. Mike Hartman. Everybody played an important role, whether they were in the lineup or not.

“It was so much fun to go to work every day. The laughs. Everyone was a target, but in a fun way. Everyone was included.”

Related: Inside the meeting that saved Rangers 1994 Cup season

Rangers players stuck together to win 1994 Stanley Cup championship

Syndication: Westchester County Journal News
Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News / USA TODAY NETWORKCredit: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News / USA TODAY NETWORK

Things weren’t nearly as copasetic with Smith and Keenan though. The Rangers general manager and his hand-picked coach were at odds throughout their one-year tenure together.

“When people ask me when did things turn bad between them, I always say ‘as soon as they got back from their honeymoon in Hawaii,'” former Madison Square Garden president Bob Gutkowski told Forever Blueshirts.

“They hated each other.”

Worse, they barely communicated and actually had stopped speaking to each other for a long stretch heading into the 1994 NHL trade deadline. Gutkowski explained to Forever Blueshirts how he ordered his two prideful employees to a meeting two days before the deadline to break the ice after Keenan told the president at that the Rangers weren’t good enough to win the championship.

The rest, of course, is history. At Keenan’s behest, Smith swung several massive trades ahead of the deadline that made the Rangers a much harder team to play against, and eventually a Stanley Cup champion.

Gutkowski also explained how he had a sit down with Keenan after Messier told him that the coach was losing the team following his bizarre actions and “explanations” during and after the ugly Game 4 loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.

Despite fractures with the GM and coach, and coach and players, Messier stepped forward to say something needed to be done, all the while helping hold the team together.

“You just can’t fully understand how much pressure Messier was under,” ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp recently told Forever Blueshirts.

But the players stuck together, always.

“No one was blaming anyone (in the difficult times). We just tried to help each other find answers,” Matteau explained.

That they did.

From Messier’s “Guarantee,” to Lowe’s powerful speech after the Devils tied Game 7 of the conference final that forced overtime, to Matteau’s double OT series winner that same night to Richter’s save on Pavel Bure’s penalty shot in the Stanley Cup Final to Adam Graves screaming “1940!” after the final buzzer in Game 7 of the Final against the Vancouver Canucks.

Despite the chaos and simply wicked pressure that surrounded them, the players on the 1993-94 Rangers turned inward always to rely on each other and be there for one another.

Without that, we wouldn’t be wishing them a Happy 30th Anniversary today.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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