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Thread: 1979-02-25 -- Thirty Years Ago Tonight....

  1. #1

    1979-02-25 -- Thirty Years Ago Tonight....

    ...Denis Potvin hit Ulf Nilsson and a chant was born



    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/sp...csey.html?_r=1

    Sports of The Times
    Potvin Chant Endures With a Smile, Not a Snarl


    The Rangers’ Ulf Nilsson sustained a broken ankle on a hit by Denis Potvin of the Islanders on Feb. 25, 1979.


    By GEORGE VECSEY
    Published: February 23, 2009

    “Say hello to Denis for me, if you see him.”

    This was Ulf Nilsson, speaking from Stockholm — the other half of the famous feud that never existed, except in the fans’ minds.

    On Wednesday, it will be 30 years since Denis Potvin collided with Nilsson at Madison Square Garden, breaking Nilsson’s right ankle and curtailing his career.

    Never once has Nilsson suggested that it was anything but a normal nasty hit, the kind hockey players respect. But the fracture has been commemorated by fans in the upper seats in the Garden, who revive the notorious Potvin chant during Rangers games.

    The chant proclaims the sentiment that Potvin stinks — present tense — although Potvin has not skated in the N.H.L. since 1988.



    Through the vast whimsy of the schedule-maker, Potvin will be making a visit to the Garden on Thursday as the longtime color broadcaster of the Florida Panthers. The Rangers will have a new coach, John Tortorella, after Tom Renney was fired Monday.

    Those oh-so-hip Rangers fans will know Potvin is in the building and no doubt will serenade him. Truth is, the chant would be echoing during a midday skate at the empty Garden. It is in the musty air trapped in the Garden — a tribute to the long, if inflamed, memories of Rangers fans, all fans.

    This is the way it works in the paying portion of the stands, where fans need resentment to truly enjoy the sport. Yankees fans hated Johnny Damon when he played for the Red Sox sporting his Old Testament beard and hair. It did no good for reporters who actually got to meet Damon to note that he was one of the nicer guys in any locker room. The fans wanted to hate him, and hate him they did — until he took the money and the haircut as part of the Yankees Kool-Aid package.

    In these days of free agency, there are few cases of institutional hatreds. The guy you collide with today could be dressing next to you tomorrow. Athletes are mostly lodge brothers.

    In 1979, Potvin and Nilsson were locked into one of the better hockey rivalries as the glamorous urban Rangers were trying to hold off the emerging expansion team from the Long Island boondocks.

    Potvin was the hard-hitting young defenseman with the Islanders, and Nilsson was the smooth center for the Rangers, one of those so-called “chicken Swedes” who were too mature and too skillful to be intimidated. Hard hits were part of the game.

    “With about 1:20 left in the period, Rangers fans saw a sight to enrage them, when Potvin splattered Nilsson against the boards in the left corner,” Lawrie Mifflin, now an editor at The New York Times, wrote in The Daily News that night.

    When Nilsson’s right skate caught in a crevice in the ice, the leg took the full weight of Potvin’s hit.

    “He was a great hockey player,” Nilsson said the other day from Stockholm, where he works for a Web and television company called Qbrick.

    “He was always fair,” Nilsson added. “But the ice was never great in the Garden because they had basketball and other events. My foot got caught. It was a freak thing. The Ranger fans were so frustrated.”

    The strange thing was that the Rangers eliminated the Islanders in the semifinals that year before losing to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals, and maybe Rangers fans felt they had some measure of revenge for the broken ankle. But Nilsson’s career petered out by 1983, as the Islanders won four Stanley Cups, leaving Rangers fans nothing better to do than invent the Potvin chant.

    They used the cadence of “Let’s Go Band,” and at the end chanted the part about Potvin. After other uglier versions were included, the Garden stopped playing the tune, but volunteers still seize upon a lull in the action to whistle a signal that ignites Rangers fans, some of whom were not born in 1979.

    “The big difference now is that people yell it with a smile on their face as opposed to the hatred that once was,” Potvin told Fred Bierman of The Times in 2006. “It’s just one of those things that’s passed from one generation to the next, I guess. Kind of like season tickets.”



    Nilsson says he feels no pain from the broken ankle, but he does have an artificial right hip, and his neck and spine still feel the worst hit he ever received, in junior hockey in Sweden in 1972. The Potvin hit is merely a chant.

    “I thought it would die out, but it hasn’t,” Nilsson said. He notes that his No. 11 is retired in the rafters, after he lent it to a bloke named Messier in the 1990s.

    Fifteen years ago, a mutual friend invited Nilsson and Potvin to a clay-target shooting range in Westchester, where a lot of Rangers fans were present.

    “The fans started shouting, ‘How can you put guns in the hands of Potvin and Nilsson?’ ” Ulf recalled, laughing.

    That might have been the last time he saw Potvin. They haven’t run into each other lately.

    E-mail: geovec@nytimes.com

  2. #2
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    I think what's lost here and what's lost on so many people who are not Rangers fans and on Rangers fans who weren't involved heavily in the Rangers in those years (or weren't alive or old enough to remember) is the fact that after that injury, the Rangers went 6-10-5 for the rest of the season and limped into the playoffs. This was after 3 months of 12-4-4, 11-9-0 and 11-6-2 and were 34-19-6 going into that game. They were a very good team that lost a guy who had 66 points in 59 games to that point. Ranger fans were dreaming of a Stanley Cup. They still spanked the Kings, the Flyers and the Islanders in the playoffs but couldn't handle the Canadiens in the Finals. Many Ranger fans, myself included, feel that the Rangers would have beaten that Canadien team with a healthy Ulf Nilsson in the lineup. I think that's what angers older Ranger fans the most. That result never happened because of Denis Potvin.

  3. #3
    And thus began my hatred for the Islanders. A Ranger fan since 1957 and I rooted for the Isles when they first came in. But that wasn't my worst Ranger game. I remember when Dale Rolfe was beaten to a pulp by Dave Schultz and not ONE Ranger came to his defense. That by far stays livid in my mind...

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by FloridaJet View Post
    And thus began my hatred for the Islanders. A Ranger fan since 1957 and I rooted for the Isles when they first came in. But that wasn't my worst Ranger game. I remember when Dale Rolfe was beaten to a pulp by Dave Schultz and not ONE Ranger came to his defense. That by far stays livid in my mind...
    And the next day, Emile Francis put the entire team on waivers.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jordy View Post
    I think what's lost here and what's lost on so many people who are not Rangers fans and on Rangers fans who weren't involved heavily in the Rangers in those years (or weren't alive or old enough to remember) is the fact that after that injury, the Rangers went 6-10-5 for the rest of the season and limped into the playoffs. This was after 3 months of 12-4-4, 11-9-0 and 11-6-2 and were 34-19-6 going into that game. They were a very good team that lost a guy who had 66 points in 59 games to that point. Ranger fans were dreaming of a Stanley Cup. They still spanked the Kings, the Flyers and the Islanders in the playoffs but couldn't handle the Canadiens in the Finals. Many Ranger fans, myself included, feel that the Rangers would have beaten that Canadien team with a healthy Ulf Nilsson in the lineup. I think that's what angers older Ranger fans the most. That result never happened because of Denis Potvin.
    Was it a dirty hit? I've never seen it...

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by nyahay bus View Post
    ...Denis Potvin hit Ulf Nilsson and a chant was born



    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/sp...csey.html?_r=1
    I THINK the hit is at 1:09 of this video, to me i think i can see the same bald guy in the picture standing up in the video and it also seems like Ulf's legs are the same position in the pic and the video...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5TvL...layer_embedded

  7. #7
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    Its a tribute to Potvin that Ranger fans still chant this. My kids chant this and have no idea what went down.

    Will NYR fans continue to chant this if DP takes on bad health or even after he passes?

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by sect112row36 View Post
    Its a tribute to Potvin that Ranger fans still chant this. My kids chant this and have no idea what went down.

    Will NYR fans continue to chant this if DP takes on bad health or even after he passes?
    Not sure how this represents a tribute to Potvin.

    It's pretty simple for the reasons I stated above. The Ranger fans who were there or watched it on TV will never forgive Potvin for being responsible for taking out one of our best players at the time. A player who could have made a difference in the Finals against the Canadiens. As for those who weren't even born yet, I'd say it's just a following the herd phenomenon.

    I don't think it's a tribute in any way shape or form any more than flipping him the bird would be.

  9. #9
    hahah rangers

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jordy View Post
    The Ranger fans who were there or watched it on TV will never forgive Potvin for being responsible for taking out one of our best players at the time.
    With the type of hit that Potvin himself withstood a thousand times and still happens to this very day to every other hockey player out there?

    Nilsson himself never gave a second thought to it.

    Sh8t happens.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by 32green View Post
    With the type of hit that Potvin himself withstood a thousand times and still happens to this very day to every other hockey player out there?

    Nilsson himself never gave a second thought to it.

    Sh8t happens.
    It's the old "but for" theory. It is what it is.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jordy View Post
    Not sure how this represents a tribute to Potvin.

    It's pretty simple for the reasons I stated above. The Ranger fans who were there or watched it on TV will never forgive Potvin for being responsible for taking out one of our best players at the time. A player who could have made a difference in the Finals against the Canadiens. As for those who weren't even born yet, I'd say it's just a following the herd phenomenon.

    I don't think it's a tribute in any way shape or form any more than flipping him the bird would be.
    How many players who havent played in 20yrs, are even remembered let alone have a personalized chant going for 20yrs. If it was Gerry Hart or Gord Lane or one of the other "lesser" defensemen there would be no chant.
    I could understand if they only did it in NYR-NYI games, but hearing it over and over while theyre playing Colorado is emabarrasing. BTW--I used to love all these DP chants, but theyve gotten old (maybe Ive gotten old too) and I wish they would just go away.

    BTW--I had tix to game 6 of the Finals that year and maybe losing Nilsson cost me seeing a SC game live, so if anyone should be bitter, it would be me.

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