New York, Hockeytown

FANS of the New York Rangers hockey team stood cheering for 25 minutes Tuesday night after the team captured the Stanley Cup in an emotional 3-2 victory. Little wonder: The Rangers had not won the championship since 1940, back when Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House and Fiorello La Guardia was mayor of New York City.

For the Vancouver Canucks, there was some consolation in defeat. Although Vancouver has not won a Stanley Cup since 1915 (the team back then was called the Vancouver Millionaires, before the establishment of the current National Hockey League), the Canucks -

who had only a so-so win-loss record during the regular season - went down to the wire against the team with the NHL's best record. By battling back from a 3-1 deficit to even the series at three games apiece, they stretched out the hand-wringing for New York fans, who wondered if their 54-year championship drought would ever end.

In all, the 1993-94 season was a solid one for the NHL and for hockey fans. A strike involving referees was settled before regular play was seriously disrupted; the league took a much tougher stance again violence during games; attendance soared for many clubs; several teams played in new arenas, while others contemplated moves to larger facilities; key records were set, including that of Wayne Gretzky, who finally surpassed the legendary Gordie Howe as the NHL's all-time goal scorer.

Finally, ``Canada's Game,'' as hockey is still known to many fans, has become truly international. Athletes from Europe play for teams around the league. Three from Russia who play for the Rangers will have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. And Americans had a first, too: Ranger Brian Leetch became the first US-born player to be named the playoffs' most valuable player.

Now New Yorkers can turn their full attention to the New York Knicks, who are locked in combat with the Houston Rockets for the NBA crown. No city has ever won both the hockey and basketball titles in the same year. (And dare we mention that baseball's New York Yankees have the best record in the American League?)

It's enough to make even those of us in the hinterlands break out in a chorus of ``New York, New York.''

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