NEW YORK, NY - For a city that boasts so many people, New York is surprisingly poor when it comes to developing hockey players. Sure, Joey Mullen has a great legacy, but in recent years, there haven't been too many NHL prospects from the area.
Carolina pick Brett Pesce comes from Tarrytown, where the Rangers practice, while New Jersey prospect Steven Santini hails from the exurb of Mahopac. In the 2014 draft, fans can look for high-flying left winger Sonny Milano of Long Island, but there aren't a ton of other big names.
Hall of Famer Mark Messier is beloved in New York thanks to his play and leadership in 1994, when he steered the Rangers to the franchise's first Stanley Cup title in 54 years. Now, he's helping the grassroots in the city by working for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center project, which would bring nine rinks to a new complex developed from an old armory in the Bronx.
“I always go back to '94 when we transformed the game in this area on so many levels," Messier said. "People who never paid attention to hockey all of a sudden became fans, only to turn around and find out it's not easy to be a hockey player, or to skate. Here we are again 20 years later still without the facilities and I think New York deserves better.”
The project has actually hit a snag, but there's no doubt the city is under-served in terms of hockey facilities. A lack of arenas in New York proper goes a long way toward explaining why so few NHLers or prospects hail from an area that has done so well developing other athletes. You only need to look at basketball and Harlem's Rucker Park to see what can happen when locals have a place to play a sport.
In many cases, hockey's prohibitive cost has deterred the families of children who cannot afford the equipment and the ice time and though programs have made in-roads in those areas, simply having a massive venue in New York City would be huge for the youth, no matter what their background may be.
“In today's day, I believe education through sports is important, inspiring kids and giving them something to hang onto," Messier said. "And that's what we intend to do with Kingsbridge; we intend to inspire kids and give them another choice, do something they've never had the opportunity to do. The kids in New York deserve that, especially with three teams in the metropolitan area.”
Messier noted that Kingsbridge will not just inspire hockey dreams, but also figure skating, curling and speed skating. But in a town where the Rangers are back in the Cup final for the first time in two decades, it's not wild to suggest there will be a spike in interest thanks to the 2013-14 squad.
Messier's boys became instant legends in town and even though the Kingsbridge project is still years away (2017 was the original target), it would have a dramatic effect on both New York and the hockey world at large. As No. 11 knows, New Yorkers don't forget their heroes.
“Riding the 4 train up to the Bronx and getting acknowledged," Messier said, "through Brooklyn, through the Five Boroughs...it's hard to believe it's 20 years later, still getting congratulated and hearing how much it meant to people.”