NY Rangers 2 Philadelphia 1

New York Rangers 2 Philadelphia 1 (26th September 2019)

One tip if you ever go to New York, unless you absolutely have to, don’t get a taxi from Newark Airport into Manhattan. I thought it would be maybe $50+tip. I was quoted $61 at the airport taxi stand, but then found I had to pay tolls as well. Adding on the tip, it was more like $90. And it wasn’t even that quick, getting me to my hotel just 10 minutes earlier than Google Maps suggests public transport would have done.

Time was of the essence though, as that morning I had woken up in San Jose, nearly 3000 miles away, and I had to be at Madison Square Garden for 7 pm. Even with my flight leaving at 8.30 in the morning, I wasn’t due to arrive at Newark until 5 pm. From there I had to collect my luggage, make my way to Manhattan in a midweek rush-hour, check in to my hotel, then re-familiarise myself with the initially confusing New York subway system, then get to MSG, then pick up my ticket from the ticket collection window, wherever that was. All in two hours.

By public transport, no chance. Take a taxi, and it might just be possible. But it wasn’t. Rush hour traffic had me checking in at 6.40 pm, and I was at 34th Street Station on the “F” line by around 7pm. I was just one block away, but I wasn’t sure which direction. I was hoping to see the bulk of MSG, looking like a giant bass drum resting in its side, but I couldn’t see it in either direction. I took a guess, and as I have an amazing talent for such things, I got it wrong. I like to think I’m quite observant, but if I’d looked up I’d have seen the seemingly unmissable Empire State Building looming up ahead, which would have told me I was going the wrong way.

I eventually go to my seat at about 7.30, but that’s not so bad. American sports events usually waste a good ten minutes at least with anthems and other announcements before the action starts, so I arrived midway through the first period, and both teams had the common decency to not score until I arrived.

Madison Square Garden has been around for quite a while. Built in 1968 when the old and grandly ornate Penn Station was knocked down by people who thought turning the station into a modern underground bunker was a brilliant idea, the arena of MSG was build on top. Being such an old place, I was expecting it to be a little ramshackle, but it was as plush as any theatre I’ve been to, let alone a sports venue. It wasn’t perfect. The view of the near goal from my lofty tier wasn’t ideal, especially when fans leaned forward at the front, but it was still hugely impressive, particularly as you never see anything like this in the UK. Photos and TV pictures just don’t show what a good view you get overall. You feel much closer than you think you would.

With 12 seconds left in the first period The Rangers took the lead. Something of a goalmouth scramble saw the puck flipping up and bouncing off the keeper. It was probably going in anyway, but Swede Lias Andersson went for glory, tapping it in from an inch out. Lights flashed behind the goal and an air-horn siren went off – all preferable to goal music in my opinion – to the delight of a considerably bigger crowd than I saw in LA. It wasn’t full by any means, but there felt enough there to feel like an event.

There was some music after the goal too but it was less obtrusive, and possibly filled a post-goal ad-break. Being New York, they also have a better choice of locally-relevant music too. A burst of The Ramones fits right in, although to be honest “I Wanna Be Sedated” could be fitting for most of Reading’s home games I’ve seen this season.

In a keenly contested game The Flyers tied it up halfway through the second period, when a shot from a wide angle deflected of the skates of three players before just sliding in inside the post. A smattering of cheers came from the few who’d made the 100 mile trip up for this pre-season fixture.

I was enjoying the game, but maybe my enthusiasm for it wasn’t matched by the locals. Some even chose to leave after the 2nd period, missing 1/3rd of the game. Many others left during the 2nd period, with scores still tied, but this did offer the chance to move forward for a better view in the closing stages.

The 4-a-side overtime period failed to produce a winner, so the game went into a sudden death shoot-out. With this being pre-season, and literally nothing really being at stake, some fans didn’t even stick around. I’m not sure what the rush to leave was. It’s not as if people were getting away to beat the traffic. Unless you were insane, and made of money (parking costs are absurd), nobody would have driven to the game.

Those that did stay were rewarded (if they were Rangers fans) with Swedish-Iranian Mika Zibanejad scoring the winner on the third round of attempts. The crowd didn’t go wild exactly, but they were appreciative, and at least the shoot-out is a better idea than baseball, where they just keep playing until there’s a winner. I nearly went to a game in San Francisco, and I’m so glad I didn’t. The usual 9-inning game was extended by a further 7 innings, lasted five hours, finishing after midnight. Nearly all of the crowd had gone home by the time it finished. That would not have been fun. I, on the other hand, had a night out in New York to look forward to, and if you can’t enjoy that, you might as well give up.