I will never forget April 16th, 2011. The New York Red Bulls were up 2-0 in the second half against the San Jose Earthquakes at Red Bull Arena. But nobody cared. That was merely a subplot to the main storyline, which was soccer superstar Thierry Henry’s struggle to score a goal. The French Maestro, brought into MLS with high expectations, only scored twice in his first 15 games with the New York Red Bulls. He heard all sorts of criticism from a whole array of people. “He’s past his prime,” was one assertion. “He’s only came here for a glorified vacation,” was another. Whatever the justification, the general message was that all the money and hype directed towards Thierry Henry was a mistake. In this particular game, Henry was making plays, but he continually failed to capitalize on one of his many opportunities to put the ball in the net. The fans were taunting him from the stands. Fans booed him as he was temporarily on the sideline after getting injured. Finally, late in the game, this happened.
Look at his reaction. Henry “celebrated” by walking directly over to the team’s Supporter’s Section and cursing them all out. I was seated multiple sections over, but I and probably everyone else in the building could still hear the passionate but vicious words emanating from his mouth. He didn’t care about the score. He didn’t care about his teammates celebrating around him. The message from Henry to the fans, media, and world was clear; “I’m Thierry Henry, and don’t ever f’ing doubt me ever again.” And nobody did.
The Rangers find themselves in a similar situation, and while I don’t think anyone is ever going to match the anger and intensity of Thierry Henry, they need to channel the same kind of attitude. Collectively, the hockey world had already graduated the Penguins into the Eastern Conference Finals prior to Game Five. The Rangers were booed out of their own building. Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis each got the wrong kind of special attention from the crowd. Nash shouldn’t feel safe from a buyout himself, while giving up all those assets for St. Louis was a huge mistake. Brad Richards has already been kicked halfway out the door by those presuming a compliance buyout is in his future. Ryan McDonagh is a shell of himself and he HAS to be injured. Derek Stepan is invisible and not proving to be a true top-line center. Derek Dorsett is useless. J.T Miller and Jesper Fast don’t belong in the NHL right now.
These are all ideas that have been propagated by fans, or Keith Jones in his intermission spots on NBC, or by HOT SPORTS TAKE columnists. In some cases the criticism/statements are fair. In others they are wildly ridiculous. Nonetheless, the truthfulness – or in certain cases, “truthiness” – is irrelevant. Whether justified or not, the criticisms are loud and persistent. Athletes have been brainwashed by PR people and agents to insist an apathy to outside criticisms and the media in general, but reality is that most of them do read the articles and listen to what’s said on TV and radio. They are very aware of who is saying what. They also all have egos. Quite simply, you can not make it to that level without some semblance of arrogance, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In this case, the Rangers need to embrace that arrogance. The fanbase doesn’t believe in them. The media hasn’t believed they can turn it around. The Rangers are very much set up for Bill Simmons’ “Nobody Believes In Us!” theory. Combine that with Martin St. Louis’ personal situation, and the Madison Square Garden faithful might have unintentionally given the team reason to unify and prove everyone wrong. They should want to absolutely kill it in Game Six, just like they did last night, only except this time it would be on Garden ice. Particularly the top players should feel motivated to shove success in their critics’ faces. And like Thierry Henry, they could stand at center ice at the end of the night and silently declare; “look how wrong you were.”
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