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June 14, 2018

Rejoicing In The Cup, In Large Ways And Small

The Rangers winning it all in 1994 stands as one of the indelible moments in the 50-year history of the newest Madison Square Garden. For some, the celebration played out off the beaten path.

Pushing away all talk of 1940 and curses, the victorious and euphoric Rangers surround the Stanley Cup. (Photo: Bruce Bennett Studios/New York Rangers)

In those first breathless moments, with Mark Messier raising the Stanley Cup and Madison Square Garden at long last able to revel in the wonder of it all, the Rangers’ Jay Wells allowed himself a look away from the celebration. The Vancouver Canucks — some on one knee on the ice, others still anchored to the bench — watched numbly, their faces blank.

“It hit me right then,” says Wells, “they went through the same blood, sweat and tears we did. Just a twist or a turn the other way, that could have been us.”

In this 50th anniversary year of the newest Garden, few moments have lifted the building like this one, when thousands of fans raised the chant of “1994,” dispelling once and for all the haunting cries of “1940.”

As an entire city was swept up, the heroes of the day were Messier, Mike Richter, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves. For those like Wells, part of a crucial supporting cast, the triumph is remembered in smaller moments the bigger celebration may have missed.

Then in his 15th season in the NHL, Wells, a rugged defenseman, was on the bench as the last seconds ticked off, with the Rangers clinging to a 3-2 lead in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

How many shifts did he have in the game? What exactly did he do? It remains a blur for him. But he promised himself one thing — that he would be the first one off the bench. He made a beeline toward Messier before anyone else could pile on to the Rangers’ captain, he says.

 

The Box In The Back Seat

Today marks 24 years since the Rangers won the Cup, and even Wells had to be reminded that the jubilation was at first delayed. As players and fans began rejoicing, a late icing call created one more excruciating faceoff near the Rangers goal, with 1.6 seconds still hanging in the air.

By week’s end, New York had feted the Rangers with a parade in the Canyon of Heroes. And adhering to hockey tradition, each player kept the Cup for a few days. Wells was living in Buffalo, and says he retrieved the Cup at the airport, where it was waiting for him in an ordinary box.

He soon drove the trophy to his hometown of Paris, Ontario. First, though, accompanied by his brother Bill, he had to get it over the Canadian border. A customs agent inquiring what was in the box in the back seat ordered them from the car, and two other agents appeared to have their hands poised near their guns. The tension lifted, he said, when suddenly out came cameras followed by a slew of autograph requests.

Just about everyone he knew came to see and touch the Stanley Cup at his father’s farm and at the town fairgrounds. Friends, neighbors and loved ones were there for a grand reunion, and for Wells, it was one final celebration, more than 500 miles away from The Garden.

 


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