Stadium Series notebook: FDNY arrival, Igor starts, Rempe makes NHL debut for Rangers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s a sun-splashed, windy and cold afternoon here at MetLife Stadium, where the New York Rangers will face off outdoors against the Islanders in the Stadium Series on Sunday.

In fact, it’s so beautiful and clear out, that it’s expected puck drop will be moved back to roughly 3:45 p.m. due to sun glare.

The Rangers arrived with an FDNY escort, riding in on firetrucks before walking into the stadium alongside New York firefighters.

“I’m not sure whose idea it was but I thought it came together great,” Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow said pregame. “It’s great meeting those guys, and we all know what they do for our community. It was great to share that moment with them.”

Here are some other pregame nuggets from the Stadium Series.

Igor Shesterkin starts in goal, Matte Rempe to make NHL debut for Rangers

Coach Peter Laviolette met with reporters after the Rangers arrived at MetLife Stadium and confirmed that Igor Shesterkin will start in goal and Matt Rempe will make his NHL debut.

Neither lineup decision was a surprise. Shesterkin will play in his first NHL outdoor game, coming off two straight wins, including a 2-0 shutout against the Calgary Flames on Monday.

Shesterkin is 21-12-1 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in 34 games this season. However, in 10 career games against the Islanders, Shesterkin is 2-7-1 with a 3.13 GAA and .881 save percentage.

His backup, Jonathan Quick, started three outdoor games when he played for the Los Angeles Kings and won two of them.

After practicing the past two days on the fourth line, Rempe will make his NHL debut in front of 70,000 fans Sunday. The 21-year-old will skate on a line with Goodrow and Adam Edstrom. Fourth-line stalwart Jimmy Vesey has moved up to the top line, replacing Blake Wheeler, who’s out for the season with a lower-body injury.

“Making your NHL debut is special, it’s a day you remember,” Mika Zibanejad said before the game. “You get to do it on a special occasion like this, it’ll be way more special than you can imagine.”

The 6-foot-8 (and a half, per Rempe) forward will be the first player in NHL history to make his debut in an outdoor game.

Goodrow said he’s looking forward to playing with the two rookies.

“I never thought I’d play on a line where I’m the shortest guy by five inches, but it’s going to be fun,” the 6-foot-2 Goodrow said.

Related: Rangers by the numbers for 2024 Stadium Series against Islanders

Rangers look to restart rivalry against Islanders

It’s been 423 days since the Rangers and Islanders played against each other. Let that soak in. Somehow, rivals whose arenas are 20 miles apart, haven’t played in well more than a calendar year.

“First time we met the Islanders since 2022,” Chris Kreider said in disbelief Thursday. 

Added Vincent Trocheck, “Two teams in New York not seeing each other for a year. It’s definitely rare, I’d say.”

And it’s not just the Rangers who are incredulous.

“It’s been a while. Last year was three games early in the season and now we have four late in the season,” Islanders forward Matt Martin told Forever Blueshirts. “It is weird to not play someone 35 minutes away from you who’s your biggest rival, games you kind of look forward to because both fan bases being in the building.”

The most recent meeting between the teams was Dec. 22, 2022, a 5-3 Rangers win at Madison Square Garden. And this is their first clash outdoors since the Rangers edged the Islanders 2-1 on Jan. 26, 2014 in the Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium.

Related: Rangers turn to Jimmy Vesey to replace Blake Wheeler on top line in Stadium Series

The game Sunday will be played in front of at least 70,000 fans, dwarfing that previous game at Yankee Stadium, not to mention those indoors at The Garden and UBS Arena. Players from both sides expect it be extremely loud and boisterous at MetLife Stadium.

“I think there’ll be extra juice in the game for the fact that there’ll be 80,000 fans in the building and New Yorkers aren’t the quietest fan bases in this sport,” Martin explained. “It’s something we enjoy, whether at MSG or UBS or [Nassau] Coliseum, Barclays Center, I’ve always enjoyed the Islanders-Rangers games for that reason. The crowds are hostile, the energy is amazing and it leads to an unbelievable environment for us.”

The Rangers, who sit first in the Metropolitan Division, will be trying to win their season-high seventh straight game. The Islanders have lost two in a row (0-1-1) and are on the outside looking in on a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

So, these two points are important, no matter the hoopla of playing outdoors.

“It makes for a positive experience if you win the hockey game,” Kreider said. “It’s an unbelievable spectacle, they do a great job with it. But it’s something you’re really going to remember and cherish if you win.”

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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