Urban Rivalry On Ice

N.Y.C.-Philadelphia cross sticks in Stanley Cup face off

One city is known for its aggressive behavior, a frantic pace, an emphasis on success, and its cheesecakes.

The other is best known for its Quaker pacifists, a relaxed pulse rate, its modesty, and its cheese steaks.

Starting tonight, it's cheese steaks vs. cheesecakes as the Philadelphia Flyers meet the New York Rangers in that ulti-mate clash of wills and athletic prowess - the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs.

With a $38 million payroll - the highest in professional hockey - New York skates a collection of superstars who won multiple Stanley Cups in the late 1980s for the Edmonton Oilers. Some fans jokingly call the team "Edmonton East."

The Rangers' biggest star is Wayne Gretzky, known as the Great Gretzky, who joined the team to play with Mark Messier, another former Edmonton star. Gretzky, who's earning over $5.5 million per year, is feared around the league for his pinpoint passes and creative play.

Messier, who's paid $6 million, is considered the inspirational team leader. The Rangers' goaltender, Mike Richter, frustrates teams with his acrobatic saves.

Philadelphia, with a payroll of $28 million, is anchored by six-foot, four-inch Eric Lindros, a 229-pound linebacker on skates. When he and his four other skaters are on the ice they have the moniker "the Legion of Doom." The Philadelphia style is very physical. In the 1970s, the team, which won back-to-back Stanley Cups, was known as the Broad Street Bullies. This team fights less, but scores more.

It may be hockey, but more than trophies are at stake. In an age of photo opportunities, there is the prospect of political advantage.

When the Rangers defeated the New Jersey Devils last Sunday, New York's mayor Rudolph Giuliani was quick to find political overtones.

Mr. Giuliani, who is up for reelection this year, said "the Rangers beat New Jersey in very much the same way in that we kept the Mercantile Exchange in New York when they [New Jersey] tried to steal it from us."

A Stanley Cup win also won't hurt the Republican's reelection bid. If the Rangers reach the finals, he is likely to stake out a seat at center ice as he did when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994. Several times during the game, the cameras would locate the mayor and his son, Andrew. If the Rangers win, the mayor will lead another ticker-tape parade that his Democratic challengers will have to watch from the sidelines.

If the Flyers win the Cup, there will likely be a parade down Broad Street. Mayor Edward Rendell doesn't have much to win - under term limits he can't stand for reelection. Although Mr. Rendell didn't return repeated phone calls about the series, his press secretary says the city views the hockey series "as a very special match-up."

Both mayors love friendly wagers. Last year, Giuliani lost to Rendell. "The cheesecake was very good, but not as sweet as the victory," says a spokesman for Rendell.

"This year," Giuliani says, "I am absolutely sure I will win." He's betting two dozen Nathan's hot dogs and $5,000 worth of sporting equipment (donated to the Police Athletic League) that the Rangers will prevail.

Both teams have highly vocal and knowledgeable fans. At New York's Madison Square Garden, the noise level becomes deafening and can intimidate some teams.

Les Bowen, a sports reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, describes Flyers fans as "passionate" about the games. "I write much longer game stories, but people care so much they want to read more. If we write it, they will read it," he says.

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