NEW YORK — Dan Girardi was rooting no one. Or he was rooting for everyone. He proclaimed no allegiance as his two former teams faced off.
Girardi retired after two years with the Lightning, but before that, he played 788 games for the Rangers over 11 seasons. He dropped the puck as part of a small ceremony before Tuesday’s game and then watched the rest of the game with his family, enjoying the chance to be a fan.
“We told my son and our kids, we’re just watching a hockey game,” Girardi said. “If the Rangers score, we cheer. If the Lightning score, we cheer. We’re not picking sides at all.”
Typically, a ceremony recognizing a player would be conducted before the visiting team takes the ice. This one was scheduled with both teams in mind. The Rangers played a video tribute thanking Girardi for his contributions, featuring some of his highlights, fun moments and tributes from his former teammates.
In another slight twist on the usual, it was not Lightning captain Steven Stamkos who took the ceremonial faceoff, but alternate captain Ryan McDonagh, with whom Girardi played in both New York and Tampa Bay. Chris Kreider took the faceoff for the Rangers.
Girardi remembers his first time returning to Madison Square Garden clearly. Walking up the ramp to the visitor’s side was “really weird.” He’d wanted to have a morning skate, but it was the second game of a back-to-back, so he settled for getting to the rink early to soak it in.
“It was a pretty cool moment but it was also strange at the same time,” he said.
This is another cool moment. His first game as a fan at the league’s most famous arena and a chance to be recognized by the organization with which he came up.
Earlier in the day, Girardi attended both morning skates. His son Landon was gifted pucks by both teams and took photos with some of his favorite players. Plus, he got to ride the zamboni. As for Girardi, he addressed the Lightning briefly before they started the session.
“He put the boys in a good mood,” coach Jon Cooper said, “as Dan Girardi does.”