It must be an odd feeling to be a New York or New Jersey team and get booed in your own bailiwick, which is what happens when this trio visits one another. When the Islanders were created in 1972, and the Rangers visited them at the Coliseum, the roar for the Rangers was louder than for the Isles. After all, hockey fans on Long Island had grown up as Ranger followers. Now, of course, Islander fans can’t stand the Rangers. The idea of being booed not far from where you play is unusual. One cannot imagine, say, the Bruins being booed if they went to Wellesley, 16 miles from Boston.
What’s it like to perform for all three teams? Eleven players can make that claim, and John Vanbiesbrouck, a goalie, was by far the best.
“It’s odd, for sure,” said Vanbiesbrouck, 58, when asked about being a visiting player just a few miles from his home base. “Each team handled themselves differently.”
He recalled the differences among the arenas — the Nassau Coliseum was “a tough place to play, very raucous crowd. The Devils didn’t have a huge number of fans that were anti-Ranger.”
Vanbiesbrouck, a Vezina Trophy winner in 1986 as the league’s top goalie when he was with the Rangers, is now assistant executive director in charge of global affairs for USA Hockey. Most of his career was spent with the Rangers — nine full seasons starting in 1983. He then played for the Florida Panthers and the Philadelphia Flyers before returning to New York — this time for the Islanders in 2001. Later that season he was traded to the Devils, for whom he played an additional year.
“I would say the Devils and the Islanders definitely have a rivalry with the Rangers but not so much between themselves,” he said. “Rivalries are built on playoffs, and the Rangers have had epic battles in playoffs with both teams.”