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November 9, 2018

Serving Abroad, And Tethered To Home By The Rangers And Knicks

With both clubs honoring the U.S. Armed Forces for Veterans Day, active duty members share their stories of rooting on their teams from distant corners of the globe. Staying immersed, they say, eases the strain and links them back to all that is familiar.

Lt. Cmdr. Pat Hanley, now a Coast Guard Reserve, keeps his team close to the heart. "The Rangers," he said, "made me feel I was not so far away. (Photo: Courtesy of Lt. Cmdr. Pat Hanley)

Calling it his “workday routine,” Tech Sgt. Sean Rowe straps on his military gear each morning and heads into the rugged Afghan terrain. The U.S. Air Force calls him and his unit of 10 the Guardian Angels, and it’s easy to understand why. Their job in one of the most dangerous places on Earth is to protect other units from all threats. In other words, they are the front line’s defense.

You might think that the goings-on of his cherished New York Rangers would be far from mind, but come evening,  Sgt. Rowe has another routine. First, he calls his parents and girlfriend, Adriana. Then, he checks his phone to see how his team did the night before. He has limited megabytes of WiFi available, but that doesn’t stop him from sometimes taking in game highlights. Instantly, he says, he is transported.

“I can forget everything else,” he told The Official MSG Blog, speaking from his base in Afghanistan. “Everything feels normal.”

As part of a season-long tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces, the Knicks are marking Veterans Day on Sunday with Hoops for Troops Night, and the Rangers will follow on Monday night with Salute To Our Troops. Both teams are donating hundreds of tickets throughout the season to veterans and service members.

For Sgt. Rowe and legions of military personnel stationed all over the world, the Rangers and Knicks provide a vital tether back home. Analyzing the box scores, dissecting the coach’s every move. These are special gifts. They have a way of bridging the distance while also highlighting the global reach of both teams. 

 

“Recharged And Re-grounded”

The power of sports to ease the separation is not lost on Mark Cozzupoli, Command Chief of the 105th Airlift Wing in the National Guard, who while in the Air Force was deployed five times. A Knicks fan, he remembers watching the team’s fiery 1997 playoff match against the Miami Heat from his post in Saudi Arabia. “It took us out of an austere environment,” he says.

Pat Hanley grew up playing roller hockey in the streets of South Ozone Park in Queens. He and his buddies all wore Rangers jerseys. A lieutenant commander now on reserve with the U.S. Coast Guard, he returned last year from a nine-month stint at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. During the 2017 playoffs, Lt. Cmdr. Hanley, a season ticket holder, somehow converted many on the base into Ranger fans.

“At the end of the day, you’re not at home, not with family,” he said. “I was back in my living room, recharged, re-grounded. The Rangers were like home cooking.”

On the phone from Afghanistan, Sgt. Rowe was energized to talk about the young Rangers and his expectation that the team will jell sooner than some might expect. He stands at 5-foot-3 and played a fast brand of hockey in high school. Unsurprisingly, Mats Zuccarello is his favorite player.

Given the time difference (his post is eight-and-a-half hours later than East Coast time) and the demands of his mission, he doesn’t learn scores until nearly a full day after the game.

The Rangers’ slow start this season did not faze him. He predicted a fast turnaround. With the team spinning off four straight wins, Sgt. Rowe dispatched a crisp two-word text:

“I’m pumped.”

 

Between deployments, Tech Sgt. Sean Rowe and his girlfriend, Adriana, at The Garden. He became a Rangers fan at eight years old, he says, when an uncle gave him a Wayne Gretzky jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Tech. Sgt. Sean Rowe)


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