The manifestation of the mutual love affair more than 15 seasons in the making reached its crescendo at the Garden on Friday night when the banner memorializing Henrik Lundqvist reached the top of the Garden’s distinct pinwheel ceiling.
Chants or “Hen-rik! Henrik! Henrik!” cascaded throughout the building as if it were Game 6 against Montreal in 2014, or Game 7 against Washington in 2013, or Game 7 against Ottawa in 2012 or Game 4 against Atlanta in 2007 … or, well, as if it were almost any night of the special bygone era.
The fans, who later watched a 3-2 Rangers loss to the Wild, chanted. They cheered. In his inimitable style, Lundqvist returned the love. “Gratitude,” was his keyword. And when the King — appearing with a backdrop including the best and brightest in franchise history, his parents, his brother and sister, his wife, Therese, and the couple’s two daughters — told the packed audience in a ceremony marked by class, “I miss you guys … I am so happy to get the opportunity to thank you,” that was straight from the heart.
He is the 11th of the 1,096 players ever to have worn the Blueshirt to be similarly immortalized. So there are 11 in the exclusive club that does not demand secret handshakes or passwords for entry, but rather careers of distinguished service that struck a special chord within the franchise and forged a singular connection with the fan base, the community and the city that this franchise has represented for 96 years.
All these years, all these decades, all these generations of players and fans who have combined to make the Rangers a legacy franchise in this city, and there are just 11 whose names roll off the tongue like a roll call of valedictorians.
You know them by heart because they are close to the heart. Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin, Andy Bathgate, Harry Howell, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, Mike Richter, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves and now Lundqvist, the first European to be so honoured. One day in the not too distant future, Brad Park will be granted admission to the club, but that is for another day.
“I can say that it’s such a unique and humbling honor, that you do share that with each other,” Richter said in a pre-ceremony press briefing. “You see how people react when they’re told, you can’t understand what it means when you’re told that initially, but through the years it becomes even more meaningful.