Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 11/20/14

During trying times of emptiness and pessimism like the current CBA holdout period, it's understandable for Ranger fans - correction: sports fans - to get very disillusioned with the pro athletes we so revere and admire. For hockey fans around the globe, discussions that once were excitable about how much we enjoy their play, their commitment, their passion and their fire have sadly turned to those of contract negotiations, revenue sharing, salary caps, etc. So, in an effort to remind ourselves of who these players...these teammates...these compassionate human beings really are, it seemed apropos to step back and commend them for what they so charitably do off of the ice.

The NY Rangers organization is by no means the only professional sports team whose personnel volunteer and contribute to the community on an ongoing basis. But you would be hard pressed to find one that does it with such vigor. And no person better exemplifies how much the Rangers give of themselves than "Mr. Humanitarian" himself, Adam Graves. Just Google “Charity / NY Rangers” and see who comes up towards the top.  What does that tell you? Sure, Adam had a stellar career on Broadway, worthy of many deserved accolades. But there is no question in many minds that his #9 proudly hangs from Madison Square Garden’s rafters even more so because of what he has done for the city of New York altruistically than athletically. And I’m certain Adam is one of a select few former athletes who has ever been bestowed such an honor for equally compelling reasons both on and off the playing surface.

But Ranger benevolence does not begin and end with Graves. The Rangers as a whole have long set the standard for acts of kindness in the sports world. Just look at what the team does time after time with their partner, the Garden of Dreams Foundation. The Foundation's goal is "to utilize the power and magic of Madison Square Garden and its properties to bring joy and happiness to children facing obstacles – whether they relate to illness, homelessness, poverty, foster care issues or tragedy."  

That's quite ambitious to say the least. And to be honest, before reading that mission statement, I had the mistaken impression that GODF's efforts were predominately illness-related. Clearly, that's not the case. As one of MSG's "properties", the Rangers have also been co-sponsoring annual Casino Nights, Coat Drives, and/or Toys For Tots campaigns for decades. And on an individual basis, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has become THE lead spokesperson for the Garden of Dreams Foundation, donating not only a portion of his Crown Collection clothing line to the cause, but also going so far as to contribute the entire $35,000 auction proceeds from one of his game-worn Winter Classic masks in one fell swoop to the worthwhile charity.

Now while these noble gestures are ones you would characterize as "tangible" contributions that the players thoughtfully and routinely make, one might challenge: "Well, sure. It's easy for them to simply write a check, but what about giving back to the community in a more direct and personal way?" To that end, financial contributions only begin to shave the ice surface of how current and former Rangers help improve the quality of life for those less fortunate.

Rangers' alum Brian Mullen grew up in New York's own Hell's Kitchen, so just imagine the emotional impact  - let alone sense of camaraderie and skill set - that someone like him or Staten Island-born alum Nicky Fotiu instills in kids when they learn how to stick-handle and shoot during the Hockey in Harlem programs. Captain Mark Messier, meanwhile, has been deeply involved with Tomorrows Children’s Fund for the past 15 years. He has been to the Hackensack, NJ University Medical Center numerous times to visit children who are undergoing treatment for cancer or serious blood disorders. He sits with them for hours, takes pictures and oftentimes, he autographs a hockey stick or provides them with a personalized keepsake. And as we all could predict, a tear or two is likely shed. But the bottom line is, it's the children who are always lifted or revived by his presence, and because of Mark's commitment, the Tomorrows Children’s Fund actually dedicated "The Mark Messier Skyway" in his honor. He is the first athlete EVER to receive such an honor, and that area has become a place where children relax and play during their stay at the Medical Center. As well, Mark transformed the Skyway into a hockey fantasyland, complete with interactive videos, games and personal memorabilia marking some of his most memorable NHL milestones.

But all of this raises the question: Why?...Why do the Rangers and so many other NHL players give so much of their time and energy towards such laudable, life-changing efforts?

It's perplexing for sure, but at the risk of sounding Don Cherry-like, I've often surmised that perhaps it's a "Canadian thing." In other words, the stereotypical hockey player grows up on a small, northern farm; his father builds a backyard rink and instills the intrinsic value of family, teamwork, hard work and how to appreciate even the smallest of gestures; the player eventually leaves to play juniors as a teen, and those morals learned at home stay with him into adulthood. Sounds like reasonable theory.

But then again, there are still plenty of American and European-born players that give much of their time as well, quite often having grown up in similar environments to those of Canadian descent. In Adam Graves' very unique case, he hails from Canada, sure, but in the city of Toronto, which is not exactly the remote outskirts of Sasakatchawan. Nonetheless, most of those close to Adam credit the fact that - with two biological sisters and an adopted brother already alongside him - the Graves' family still somehow took in as many as 40 foster children while Adam was growing up. Thus, for the Graves' kids, sharing was the only option. So maybe country of origin is not the commonality. Perhaps it's more dependent upon core family values or "cooperation by necessity." Who knows? Something to think about.

One thing is for sure, however. Our beloved Rangers who proudly wear the red, white and Blueshirts obviously understand that their role as selfless, team players is not limited to the locker room nor on the bench. These men clearly realize that there is more to life than playing professional hockey. Much more.

So the next time those everpresent, frustrating thoughts of greed and selfishness cross your mind as you read article after article about a potential work stoppage, please do yourself a favor and take a few moments to think about how the Rangers' hearts are not only worn on their striped sleeves, but are also out there in the center of the community; where "saving" truly is the ultimate "goal."

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