By Sean Hartnett
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“Win today and we walk together forever.”READ MORE: FBI Says Body Found In Grand Teton National Park Believed To Be Gabby Petito
These were the inspiring words Hall of Fame coach Fred Shero delivered to the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers before they won Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, breaking new ground as the first non-Original Six team to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Although the 2014 Rangers fell short of achieving their Stanley Cup prize 40 years later, the bonds shared by current and former teammates continue to run deep. An NHL dressing room is more than a collection of men focused on a goal. It is the place where brotherhoods are formed.
Anaheim Ducks winger Carl Hagelin became part of the Blueshirts’ fabric during his four-year stay in the Big Apple. The Swede’s energetic play and intelligent defensive instincts won the respect of the Garden faithful. This two-way aptitude, combined with a commitment to the Rangers’ crest, endeared him to teammates.
“He’s a good guy, an unselfish guy who cares about everyone,” center Derick Brassard told WFAN.com. “I think he was really well-liked in our dressing room. He had a big role with our team, a defensive forward who can bring some offense and play on the penalty kill. I think everyone here really appreciated what he did for the team and for the dressing room. We miss him a lot.”
Mats Zuccarello formed an instant bond with Hagelin when he arrived in the AHL in time for Connecticut’s 2011 playoff run after finishing four seasons at the University of Michigan. Together, the undrafted Zuccarello and sixth-round pick Hagelin were determined to push each other and blaze their path into the NHL.
“He’s a friend I’m going to have for the rest of my life, that’s for sure,” Zuccarello told WFAN.com. “It started in Hartford. He came in from college, we were playing in the playoffs. I was maybe hurt at the time. We bonded right away. He’s one of my best friends outside of hockey. We talk all the time throughout the summer. I miss him as a teammate.”
No matter how much talent a player possesses, there’s going to be bumps in the road. Early into Alain Vigneault’s first season coaching the Rangers, Zuccarello was a healthy scratch on October 24 in Philadelphia after beginning the 2013-14 season pointless through seven games.
At the time, Hagelin was in the process of recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and had just begun resuming on-ice workouts. On the practice ice, the duo held each other accountable by putting in extra work. When Zuccarello returned to the lineup days later in Detroit, he ended his drought by scoring a goal in a 3-2 overtime victory, kickstarting his season.READ MORE: Public School 79 In East Harlem To Remain Closed Due To COVID-19 Cluster; Remote Learning In Place Until Sept. 28
“I attribute that to me,” Hagelin said jokingly in a 2013 interview. “I took care of him on the ice when we did back-skating. Nah, I’m kidding. He worked really hard, he didn’t take a day off. He wanted to get back and wanted to make a statement.”
Winger and fellow Swede Jesper Fast, 24, appreciates how Hagelin helped ease the process of adjusting to life in the NHL.
“He was the one guy that if there was any questions, I asked him,” Fast told WFAN.com. “He drove me a lot to the airport and practices. We would talk about everything. He meant a lot to me in my first year, he helped me a lot. It’s good to have a guy from Sweden when you come over, you have something in common. Sitting next to him in the locker room, he was a very big help.”
The harsh realities of the salary cap paved Hagelin’s move from East Coast to West Coast, landing him in “The O.C.” following a draft-day trade which sent Emerson Etem in the opposite direction.
“The core group – Carl was one of those guys,” Brassard said. “The team probably wanted to keep him. With the salary cap and his contract situation, he had to go. It was too bad, but at the same time we wish him well there. He’s on a good team in Anaheim.”
It wasn’t the happiest of homecomings for Hagelin on Tuesday, as the Ducks were defeated 3-2 at the Garden with Zuccarello notching the overtime winner.
Before the game, Hagelin reflected on his time in New York. He described the experience as “four unbelievable years” and the Rangers as “a really good organization with great staff, people I’ll keep in touch with for the rest of my life.”
Having come so close to drinking from the big silver chalice, there will always be a sting when the Rangers recall their run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, but great memories and friendships were formed in the process. Whenever Hagelin returns to MSG in a road uniform, he will be remembered fondly by fans and ex-teammates.MORE NEWS: NYC Restaurant Owners Sound Off On Vaccine Mandate
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.