By Sean Hartnett
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Next time you board an NYC-bound Metro-North train with coffee in hand, don’t be surprised if you spot a pair of sharply dressed hockey players sitting across the aisle.
Having moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, last summer, Rangers alternate captain Marc Staal has joined longtime resident and frequent defensive partner Dan Boyle on one-hour commutes to The Garden. Staal is relishing the experience of forming a closer bond with Boyle in what could be the 39-year-old’s farewell season.
“He’s had a long career. I’m not sure what he’s going to do after this year, or what he’s thinking,” Staal told WFAN.com. “You’re around someone who’s played with so many great players and played such a long time. He’s someone with so much depth and knowledge. The longer you play, the more things you pick up. He’s picked up a lot of things over the years, and I’ve learned a lot from him over the past couple years.”
Boyle has hinted at the desire to spend more time with his two daughters, Eastin (7) and Wesley (5), as a reason he is leaning toward retirement. If this is Boyle’s final season, Staal is glad to be around for the ride – whether by commuter train, charter train, team plane or carpool.
“We’re commuter buddies in the morning on the train, and we drive home together after the game,” Staal said. “So we’re always talking about the game for a while. Depending on how the night goes, sometimes we won’t say anything – but we’ve definitely grown a lot closer this season. He’s a funny guy, and it’s fun to be around him in the room. When we talk about the game or anything, you value his opinion. He’s played over 1,000 games in the league, he’s won a Cup and has a lot of experience.”
Staal and Boyle’s Greenwich homes are separated by a three-minute drive, and the pair often carpools to the Rangers’ Tarrytown, New York, practice facility. Though the duo is on the same wavelength on the ice, their musical tastes tend to clash. They’ve had to find a compromise given Boyle’s penchant for nu-metal and alternative rock and Staal’s preference for indie rock and jam bands.
Boyle’s playlist typically includes Faith No More, Deftones, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pantera, while Staal’s favorites are Kings of Leon, Mumford and Sons, OAR and the Christian rock band Need To Breathe.
While driving back to Greenwich together after games, the constant rotation of Faith No More albums and metal bands was beginning to grate on Staal.
“I had to do something,” Staal said. “We were driving home, and I could only handle so much Faith No More and hard, metal rock after games. I had to bring some of my music that I think he’d might like. I played Mumford and Sons’ last album. He took to it a little bit, which is nice – a change of pace.”
Admittedly, Boyle is now hooked on Mumford and Sons. That said, he’s not giving up hope of converting the laid-back Staal into a Faith No More fan.
“Marc moved three minutes away from my house, so him and I have been getting a lot closer,” Boyle told WFAN.com. “He’s a Mumford and Sons guy. He got me into it, and I’m trying to get him into Faith No More. But he’s not responding as well to that as I’d like. I’m going to keep pushing.”
Staal responded: “I’m not gonna lie, I like a few of their songs. I like some of the stuff he plays, not all of it though. I don’t know if I’ll ever get into all of it.”
There was a time earlier this season when Boyle’s place in the lineup was questioned. He pushed through a rough spell and re-established himself as a power play go-to guy. Even with retirement on his mind, he is demonstrating the kind of game-by-game hunger younger teammates need to incorporate into their game.
Boyle is the oldest active defenseman in the NHL and is still continuing to provide power play excellence. He has been on the ice for 16 of the Rangers’ 22 power play goals this season and each of the Blueshirts’ last seven power play goals. The 5-foot-11 blueliner has recorded a point on five of the Blueshirts’ last six power play goals (two goals, three assists).
First-year Ranger Emerson Etem is one youngster who is taking on board Boyle’s wisdom and studying his example.
“He’s been in the league this long and had success for a reason,” Etem said. “He fights through adversity. Whether he’s in or out of the lineup, he handles it better than anyone I’ve seen. He’s an awesome guy and a guy I can learn from.”
Boyle has always been a thoughtful, team-first character. He takes pride in being able to advise teammates and making a personal connection.
“Hopefully, they appreciate that I’m one of the guys, even though I’m 15 years older than some of these guys. I’m just one of the boys, and hopefully they appreciate that about me,” Boyle told WFAN.com in December. “I’m not a big rah-rah vocal guy in front of the whole locker room, but I like to connect one-on-one at dinner with certain guys. Hopefully, I’ve helped some people along the way. That’s one of those things when you’re young; an older guy can help you and vice-versa. You’ve got to give back.”
Staal and Etem are just two of many teammates who have benefited from his wisdom. If this season is Boyle’s last ride, he is departing with many teammates inside the Rangers’ dressing room and former teammates spread across the league thankful for their chance to rub shoulders with him. No. 22 has done it the right way.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey