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NEW YORK — Up in the Infosys Concourse at Madison Square Garden where the press room is located and where fans who have seats in the lower bowl congregate, you can find a wall display called Garden 366. It’s a pictorial history of the World’s Most Famous Arena.
It has become trendy for new arenas to celebrate the home team’s history through pictures, but that wasn’t good enough for MSG.
“The whole building is a Hall of Fame,” former President and CEO of The Madison Square Garden Company, Hank Ratner, told the New York Post back in 2012 when the exhibit was unveiled.
There were many storied buildings across the NHL in past years, but if you discount the entirely remade Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, none has survived longer than this renovated version of MSG. And if you pore over the history of North America’s venues, few can hold a candle to a building that is far more than the home of the Rangers and Knicks.
“It’s just this slice of awesomeness,” said former Coyote and Ranger Derek Stepan, who called MSG home for the first seven seasons of his recently concluded career.
The oldest memory on display in Garden 366 is from 1879, when the original Garden opened in Madison Square Park. Eight years later, Buffalo Bill’s first Wild West exhibition earned posthumous commemoration. The Garden witnessed Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday’’ at a Democratic fundraiser to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. It played host to Pope John Paul II in 1979. It witnessed Kobe Bryant scoring 61 points in 2009. And on May 13, 2015, another moment earned its spot on the wall when Stepan scored at 11:24 in overtime of Game 7 of a playoff series, lifting New York past the Washington Capitals and into the Eastern Conference Final.
“I think I’m right next to a Billy Joel concert,” Stepan said, chuckling. “The history of MSG isn’t just hockey and basketball. It’s almost like the history of the world.”
Maybe that’s why such awe overcomes everyone who steps into Madison Square Garden for the first time, whether you’re a player, coach, fan or media member.
“It’s definitely someplace that hockey fans should go and check out a game, but it’s just as special for players,” Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse said. “There’s so much that is unique about it. There’s the long walk up the ramp from the parking area. There’s that cool ceiling in the actual building and it just feels like the whole building has this presence when you’re in there. If you’re able to channel that feeling and use that energy when you play, it’s pretty great.”
There are so many unique features at MSG. Aside from the ramp that Crouse referenced, the ice and court at MSG are actually on the fifth floor, suspended above New York City’s main railway hub and the busiest transportation facility in the Western hemisphere, Penn Station. The ceiling is the only concave stadium ceiling in the world. To accommodate media in the new configuration, the press box is actually suspended above the crowd within the inner bowl, giving reporters perhaps the best view of any arena in the NHL.
“It’s an intimidating building,” Coyotes assistant coach John Madden who played for nine seasons for the nearby New Jersey Devils and had plenty of battles back when New Jersey was a perennial Cup contender. “I was playing in the minors and I got called-up for a game there. With all the big names they had on their on their roster back then, I could barely stand; I was so nervous. I think John Davidson was doing the announcing and I watched the game later on. He was saying the same thing: ‘Maddie can’t even stay on his feet. He’s so nervous.’
“When you walk through the halls there and you see some of the pictures of some of the famous people that performed there over the years, you’re just in awe. It just has history for everything: musicians, other sports figures, whatever it is, something has gone down that’s made it the place to be. It has a really nice buzz to it.”
MSG has not been kind to the Coyotes/Jets franchise. In 43 games there, the franchise is 12-25-2-4. Arizona is 2-6-2 in its past 10 games here, but the team is riding high after a season-opening win in New Jersey.
“We played rock solid,” coach André Tourigny said. “That was as good or even better than I was hoping for. We need to keep it going.”
Stepan was part of one of the biggest wins for the Coyotes at MSG. In his first trip back to New York in 2017, Stepan was a minus-3 in a 5-2 loss that came at the tail end of the Coyotes’ season-opening 11-game losing streak (0-10-1). That didn’t sit well with him, so when he returned the following year, he authored a dramatic finish in front of 17,441 still appreciative fans.
“I don’t have many wristers that I scored from that far away,” Stepan said. “You’ll hear golfers talk about catching a pure spot on a shot. I got that one good. It was a really nice goal and, yeah, it was extra special because of where it was.
“I had some fun with it too, because I played with Brady Skjei and he was the defenseman that I shot it by. When I was in Carolina, I was telling guys that I did a spin-o-rama and toe-dragged Brady and then scored. When they looked it up, that was obivously not the case, but it’s still a fun story to tell; a nice little piece of MSG history.”
Top photo of Madison Square Garden via Getty Images
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