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Losing the Edge: The Rise and Fall of the…
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Losing the Edge: The Rise and Fall of the Stanley Cup Champion New York…

by Barry Meisel

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As hockey books go this is a particularly good one. Entering the 1993-94 season the Rangers had last tasted victory in 1939-40--root beer I believe back then--not champagne. The previous season had turned into an unmitigated disaster as one of the most talent laden teams had failed to make the playoffs--the most notable event being the firing of their coach Roger Neilson after a nasty public dispute with Ranger captain Mark Messier.

One season later on June 14, 1994 the Rangers will take the ice against the Vancouver Canucks in front of their raucous hometown fans in Madison Square Garden in the seventh and final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs--for all the marbles and win setting off a host of victory celebrations and finally putting thier demons to rest. Meisel's book follows that season plust the next hangover 94-95 season from the hiring of the mercurial Mike Keenan as head coach to the Rangers being unceremoniously bounced out ot the 94-95 by their arch-rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. The story starts with Rangers General Manager Neil Smith and his hiring of Keenan who's own lust for power will constantly test Smith. Keenan thinks nothing of going behind Smith's back to upper management to get the things he wants. Much of the ensuing conflict between the two is highlighted in this battle for control. More often than not despite Smith's resistance Keenan will get what he wants including numerous trades of players between the Rangers and other teams.

Inside the locker room on the other hand Mark Messier's Rasputin/Christ like control over the players--something almost unique in North American professional sports. The balding Messier--square jawed with a rock hard physique--a player with elite skill who would just as soon go over as around opponents--an emotional spiritual leader just as capable of bursting into tears over winning and losing--sometimes both--as he is laying out an opponent with a borderline or dirty hit. His ruthless desire to win mirroring Ranger fans gnawing hunger for a championship. Several stories above the subway station those fans will during peak moments of the Cup run literally send tremors rippling through the station below them. Meisel will refer to 18,000 + fans packing the arena as the 'monster'. 54 years of hard times has not driven them away--it only has made them into more rabid fans--many of whom pass their tickets on from one generation to another.

There are of course many other heroes here. Meisel's book is unique for looking into numerous personalities--playing off the conficts amongst the management and in the locker room. He manages to do it with much humor and insight and usually without taking sides. There is a lot to laugh at out loud here--though some of it might ask for more than a casual knowledge of the game. It is well written and well told. A must for any serious New York Rangers fan but a very good read even for fans of other teams. ( )
  lriley | May 25, 2008 |
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