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Stadium Series proves to be an exciting experience for players and fans

01/30/2014 12:00 AM ET
By Seth Rothman

The Rangers won both of their games at Yankee Stadium in a combined crowd of about 100,000 spectators.(AP)
BRONX, N.Y. - If it was a pure exhibition of high-skill hockey you were looking for, Yankee Stadium wasn't the place to be this week.

If it was an exhibition of what hockey means to its fans, then Yankee Stadium was the only place to be this week.

The Rangers edged the Islanders, 2-1, Wednesday night in the final game of the New York edition of the Stadium Series after clobbering the Devils on Sunday. But unless you're a player or diehard fan of the three teams, those results aren't why you turned out in droves to Yankee Stadium and watched on TV.

"It was another amazing night," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who's now won all three outdoor games he's played in. "You're just thankful to get this opportunity. And everyone's showing up tonight to make it so special. I said out there on the ice [during a televised interview], it's a great stadium, but you need the fans to make it special. They showed up."

"You guys asked me before the game what I expected and I was trying to give the correct answer, but you never really know until you're there, and I loved it," said Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. "I loved every second of it."

You watched because you got a chance to experience why hockey's fans are as devoted as they are. You watched because you experienced why over 100,000 fans packed a frigid Yankee Stadium, despite temperatures no higher than the low 20's. You watched because it was fun.

"I mean, the NHL has done a great job," said Islanders coach Jack Capuano. "You go out there and you look at the atmosphere, you look at the fans and the show that they put on was pretty amazing. We're fortunate to be a part of this."

That's what sports are supposed to be about. They're supposed to be fun. They're supposed to make you believe in the impossible.

"To our fans who were here both Sunday and tonight: Simply incredible," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. "I know they had a good time; nobody braves the elements like hockey fans. It was great to see. It was gratifying, and we're thrilled at the response that Yankee Stadium and the New York metropolitan area gave all three teams."

For six hours spread over a frigid Sunday afternoon and bone-chilling Wednesday night, that's exactly what the fans who braved frostbite-inducing cold experienced. It was an event many said they'd never forget. Even more fans said it was the best sports experience of their lives.

"I love it, I think it's awesome," said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. "In the middle of the season, it just adds something. Something to look forward to, then the experience itself is so much fun, and the atmosphere, being outside, all that. I'd play in two or three every year. They're a lot of fun."

"I'd play every game like this," said Islanders captain John Tavares. "It's a lot of fun, and I think it's great for our game. At the same time, we don't want to cross the fine line on what's too much, but certainly I think anyone that's ever played outdoors would say it's quite the experience."

Hockey is supposed to be fun. For the fans, for the players, for the coaches, and yes, even for the grizzled veterans who make up the members of the media; for two days in the middle of a harsh winter, it was fun. What more can you ask than that?

"It was a lot of fun, honestly," Brassard said. "I'm going to remember that -- that's like the highlight of my career so far. I think that was really cool. Just to share the same passion with so many people and my teammates, it was so awesome."

What more can you ask than sitting through teeth-chattering temperatures, going home, taking a warm bath, and wishing you can do it all over again? For 100,132 fans that poured into Yankee Stadium over two days in the middle of January, and for the players that helped put on a tremendous show, there aren't too many outdoor games. There are too few.

"I hope every player in the NHL has a chance to play in a game like that," said Rangers forward Derick Brassard. "It's so much fun. [The opportunity] you have to play in a game like that in front of your family and everything, that's awesome. I'm going to remember that for a long time."

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