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Islanders and Rangers Come Together For Charity

Timeless. That’s the best way to describe the Islanders-Rangers rivalry. Multiple generations of New York hockey fans have picked a side and stuck with it. So, whether you first became a fan in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, etc. there’s always going to be that feeling of dislike for the opposing team. 

But that’s just for the fans. The players have grown to respect and like one another over the decades. Now, they even get together on a yearly basis to play a charity hockey game, with all the proceeds going to the Northwell Health Foundation. And this year, in 2024, the game raised a whopping $50,000.00! 

“For me, it just speaks to the character of hockey in our community and the closeness,” Adam Graves explained. “The friendships and respect you have for each other. And certainly, in retirement, you spend so much time in the community together. It’s just that underlying respect and an opportunity to play a game we all love to play, regardless of your age or whether you’re still playing in the National Hockey League.”

All the battles the Rangers and Islanders have had over the years, both in the regular season and postseason, are left in yesteryear. When these alumni get together now, it’s all about doing good together, usually for a charitable or community cause. It’s a nice thing to see. 

However, it’s not like that competitive fire is completely extinguished. Sure, there’s no fighting, or massive open ice hits, but the guys still want to win. 

“Without question, you got up for it more,” Thomas Hickey said before the game. “Especially at the old Coliseum. Whether it’s UBS (Arena) or The Garden, it doesn’t really matter. There’s always an extra special feeling. It was always more than just the two points that were at stake. There were bragging rights. 

“There were even a couple years where we didn’t have great seasons and if you beat the Rangers, you’d come back, get a few pats on the back, smiles, and a free meal here or there. So it matters a lot.”

“(But today), I’m a big proponent of slow speed,” Thomas Hickey continued. “I haven’t skated since my career ended. So slow speed would be fine with me. But, you know, it’s hockey and it’s in the nature of the guys. 

“If it’s a tight game with about five minutes to go, I think you’ll see the pace pick up. There’s no doubt, we’re out here for a cause and that’s pooling everything together and giving it to a good cause. Results come second, but, at the same time, it’s Rangers-Islanders, so you wanna win.

“I think if everyone is better than their peers who they played against, you’ve got a good chance at winning. So, I guess I’ll be sizing up the younger guys and maybe trying to keep up the pace and maybe everyone will do that.”

Looking back on the day, I’d say Hickey nailed it. The game was 3-2 Rangers through the first 25 minutes of play. But the next 25 minutes certainly picked up the pace. The game ended 6-4 in favor of the Rangers alumni, but, again, the most important thing was raising $50,000.00 for a terrific cause. 

“The first year we had this, it was an opportunity to bring all the generations together,” Adam Graves explained. “It’s that underlying respect and friendship. That’s the neat part. For the families who come here, Northwell Health obviously is such a leader in our community, specifically with this initiative for youth mental health. Their foundation is just terrific. There’s something for everyone because we have guys from all different decades and we have to keep it young because it keeps the level up and the skill level up.”

As Graves said, bringing the multi-generational Islanders-Rangers rivalry together allows everyone in attendance to share in the experience. The charitable aspect is obviously front and center, but you also want everyone to enjoy the entire experience. 

For example, Islanders legend Pierre Turgeon was very much looking forward to playing against the Rangers’ Stéphane Matteau. Why you might ask?

“Stéphane Matteau, I grew up with him,” Turgeon told the media before the game. “A lot of people don’t know, but there’s an inside story (regarding me and Matteau). My mom and his mom were pregnant at the same hospital, at the same time. We’re five days different. So we grew up together. We played baseball together. We played hockey together. We had a chance to play in St. Louis on the same team. He was my roommate. So, it’s pretty cool to have that. Hopefully, I can pick his pocket a little (today on the ice.)”

I’m not sure if there’s any official record of Turgeon picking Matteau’s pocket during the game, but the two longtime friends certainly gave it their all every time they set their skates onto the ice. 

And speaking of giving it their all… 

“Sneakily, Radek Martinek skates more than anyone,” Hickey explained. “(Briefly, when), I was trying to get back into The League or thinking about going overseas, I was skating with him and that’s when I realized I didn’t have it (anymore). He looked like he was better than me at that moment.”

Good for Radek Martinek. I hope he continues to skate and play as much hockey as he wants. As Hickey said earlier, “It’s in the nature of the guys.” It’s also in their nature to give back as much as possible and that’s exactly what they did by playing in this annual Alumni Classic. $50,000.00 is a beyond impressive figure to raise for charity. 

Now let’s see if they can top that in 2025.

Group photo by Blittner

Turgeon photo by Mark Rosenman

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