Donald Brashear is a hit, and that's not a reference to his intimidating, physical style of hockey. Brashear, along with captain Chris Drury and fellow newcomers Marian Gaborik, Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik participated in a Rangers FanFest for season-ticket subscribers tonight, answering questions in the lobby at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Brashear, public enemy No. 1 in New York during the playoffs after his high elbow to Blair Betts knocked the ex-Ranger center out of the teams' first-round series - for which Brashear was suspended - was introduced to a smattering of boos, to which emcee Dave Maloney pleaded with the fans to give him a chance. Even before Brashear spoke, most of the boos turned to cheers.
But the soft-spoken Brashear won over the crowd himself with some honestly and his gentle, self-depreciating humor. For instance, one fan asked the panel who was going to help the Rangers power play, 29th in the NHL last season. Brashear sheepishly raised his hand first.
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Maloney urged those in the audience to read Mike Wise's excellent profile of Brashear from last season's playoffs in the Washington Post (Click here to see the article). Some in the audience had, indeed, already read the piece.
After jumping up on stage, Brashear joked that he would take on anybody booing him, one by one. Good thing he had a huge smile on his face when he said it but it did seem to warm the crowd to his side.
Speaking to reporters earlier, Brashear said he did not believe the Betts' incident would be a factor with his new teammates.
"What's done is done," Brashear said. "I remember playing with Steve Eminger (in Washington) and we were always talking about how I hit him once behind the net and knocked him down. I wasn't trying to elbow (Betts) in the face. I was trying to deliver a hit.
"Players, in general, they know that's what I am about, what I do, intimidate any way I can.
"I'm pretty sure, at some point, we'll cross it and then throw it out and laugh about it. One time, I got hit and struck in the head (by Marty McSorley) but it's in the past."
At the same time, Brashear admitted his Game 6 hit to Betts likely sparked the Capitals (who rallied from a 3-1 series deficit). And while the Rangers were justifiably angry at the time, coach John Tortorella and Brashear's new teammates have all said the right things about him joining the team. Of course, it helps more than slightly that 10 players, including Betts, are gone from the Rangers' postseason roster.
Brashear said joining the Rangers wasn't a hard decision after they offered him a second year on his contract while the Capitals never went beyond one season.
Other highlights from the FanFest:
- The photogenic Higgins was only slightly taken aback when a not unattractive woman, rather than ask him a hockey question, wanted to know whether he was single. Higgins acknowledged he was.
- Ales Kotalik, responding to a young child's question, admitted Tortorella has asked him about playing the point on the power play.
- One woman referred to the Rangers opening the season in Pittsburgh and having to watch the Stanley Cup banner raised to the rafters as being stabbed in the heart. She demanded the Rangers' players listen to the ovation the Penguins would get so they could realize this season was their season.
- One fan wore a scuba mask. Nothing more to say about that.
- Higgins, at one point, chastised the audience about some of the boos. One fan immediately yelled back, "Get used to it." It's got to help that Higgins is a Long Island native so he's used to that kind of stuff.
- Marian Gaborik, asked by another young fan whether his eventual top-line center was on the roster now or would need to be acquired by trade, said he had faith in his current teammates and wasn't too worried about who would center him.
- Many (most) of the on-ice questions were about the power play and the Rangers ability to score more goals in general this season. One fan asked why high scorers on other teams were not able to produce similar numbers in New York. Perhaps, the fan opined, it was because the player's money was weighing down his pockets.
- Ales Kotalik arrived from Prague around 12:30 this afternoon and plans to be on the ice tomorrow at the next informal skate.
- I asked Higgins about the trend of teams getting together one, two, even three weeks before training camp starts for these informal team skates.
"More coaches want it earlier and earllier," Higgins said.
Which means these informal skates are becoming about just as voluntary as the "voluntary" NFL offseason training activities. I reminded Higgins that ex-Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick once remarked that the OTAs were indeed voluntary but, then again, so was playing.
- Memo to Rangers fans. Please stop asking Higgins whether he grew up an Islanders fan or a Rangers fan on Long Island. The answer is neither. His dad and he rooted for the Canadiens.
- Higgins said he's not concerned nor does he feel undue pressure going into a contract year.
"I really don't think about it at all," Higgins said. "My belief is these things take care of themselves. Worrying does nothing to benefit you."