“If I can make it there..”

26.2.2024. Matthew Rempe has only been in the National Hockey League for eight days, since being called up from the American Hockey League. Five NHL games. The 21-year old man from Calgary, Alberta, has certainly made an impression. He has made the covers of New York newspapers. Everybody knows his name.

The Broadway Hat

The New York Rangers, or the Broadway Blueshirts among friends, have a great tradition.

The jaunty fedora called the Broadway Hat is given to the best player from each victory. It is bestowed on a player by the previous winner.

The Broadway Hat is worn in after the game interviews. And nowhere else. Getting the hat is a gesture of respect from your teammates. It means a lot to any player. 

Rangers rookie, and recent call-up, 21-year old Matt Rempe won two Broadway Hats in his first three NHL games. “Rempe is a great example of why AHL coaches tell players to go up to the NHL and make some sort of impression,” said Patrick Williams who covers the AHL. “Don`t just go up there and be a wallflower. Make something, anything happen.”

Rempe is a big man. 6”8 and 240 pounds. That’s 203 cm and 109 kilograms for those who prefer the metric system. Huge wingspan. 

Rookie Lap Outside

The weekend before lasts Stadium Series games were a huge success. Sunday night’s game was played outside at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, in front of reported 79,690 paying customers. That is what “HRR” (Hockey Related Revenue) means. 

Matthew Rempe played his very first NHL game at the MetLife Stadium, in an outdoor game. The first ever player to do so. 

The Battle of New York had been, as far as the fisticuffs are concerned, shall we say, dormant, for a long time, before Matthew Rempe stepped on the ice for his first National Hockey League shift.  The last time there had been a fight between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders was back in November of 2021, over two years ago, when Jean-Gabriel Pageau and former number one overall pick Alexis Lafreniere dropped the gloves at the UBS Arena.

Rempe skated to his first NHL face-off, and lined up opposite Islanders` winger Matt Martin. Martin, a renowned tough guy, congratulated the young man from Alberta on his NHL debut. And then asked if he wanted to go. 

Rempe happily obliged. The two fought before there puck even hit the ice on the face-off. 

It was an old-school way to welcome the 21-year old, and make his first NHL game memorable. Later Martin told Rempe he had a longer reach than the legendary Zdeno Chara, who Martin used to fight often when the Isles played the Boston Bruins. 

Some very old-school hockey observers didn’t like the warm and friendly compliments between the established veteran Matt Martin and the rookie gunslinger Matthew Rempe. Aren’t they supposed to hate each other? Or at least pretend? 

Everybody knows that players who fight each other in hockey are often best friends. Don’t let people know that!

The comparison to Zdeno Chara is not totally without merit. People forget the young Chara, fresh out of the Western Hockey League. Matthew Rempe is a better skater than Chara was in the beginning. It is up to the young Calgaryan to improve his game. 

The Big Hit

In his second NHL game Matthew Rempe hit New Jersey Devils` forward Nathan Bastian, and was given a match penalty. 

Fortunately, Bastian was not hurt from the hit, he came back and played some more. And then got hurt against Rangers` Jacob Trouba. There was a lot of discussion on social media about the hit. According to some, it was just a bigger man, who never lifted his arm. Others saw it as an attempt to injure.

Hockey is a physical and mean game. On this blog the idea is not to try and tell the readers what professional hockey should be in someone’s opinion. The purpose is to report on it and tell it like it is. Honestly. In the National Hockey League a fourth-line call up will never try to avoid a hit even if the hit seems avoidable. His number one job is to hit somebody. 

Also, it is a good idea to go over Rule 48 in the NHL Rule Book. 

There is a lot of people in Edmonton who are wondering how come the Oilers didn’t notice and draft this giant kid, who played 20 minutes west of the city for the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior League, in an arena named after the great Grant Fuhr?

People in Calgary are also wondering why the Flames didn’t put this local boy on their list. 

City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia has always had a reputation for a tough place to play for opposing teams. The Broad Street Bullies days are long gone, the Philly Flu is no longer a serious disease, but every time a team like the New York Rangers skate against the Philadelphia Flyers, a battle ensues. With or without fisticuffs. 

This Saturday afternoon, Matthew Rempe fought Flyers tough guy Nicolas Deslauriers nine seconds into his first shift at Wells Fargo Arena. What started off as another game, turned into another fight for the New York Rangers toughie. The two fought three minutes into the first period. The fight, called by many The Fight of The Year, lasted 37 seconds. 

An unusually long hockey fight, with many punches thrown, and landed. It was like something from the NHL a long time ago. 

The biggest question at that point was, we know Rempe can fight and hit, but can he play hockey?

He scored his first NHL goal at 6:31 of the second period. It turned out to be the game winning goal which extended New York`s winning streak to ten games. After, Rempe called his goal ugly. The puck bounced off his shinpad and went in. They don’t ask how (insert your own hockey cliche here).

The last time the New York Rangers were on the verge of winning eleven consecutive games came in 1973. That Rangers team ran into the Montreal Canadiens dynasty team in the 11th game, and had to settle for a tie. 

Blue and Black Jackets

The same script almost, happened on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. During the pregame warmup, Rempe was stretching near the red line, when Columbus Blue Jackets` Mathieu Olivier came over for a chat. 

The two dropped the gloves on their first shift. Olivier is maybe an unheralded hockey enforcer, but he is very very tough. Olivier got the better of Rempe in this one. As an older and very experienced fighter, he apparently studied Tempe’s fighting style in advance, and saw something he could expose, despite the size disadvantage. He landed several big rights. 

In the second period, Rempe got an assist on his fellow fourth-liner Adam Edström`s goal. Columbus won the game 4-2, which meant the end to New York’s historical 10-game winning streak. No new team record. 

This time the first-period scrap Rempe against Olivier ignited the other team, the Blue Jackets to impressive 4-2 win in sold-out Nationwide Arena. 

After this one, many suggested that Matthew Rempe needs to be more judicious and stop accepting every invitation to fight. He has come in as a young player, 80s style, wanting to challenge everybody. 

Even though it was noted, that it was Rempe who asked Mathieu Olivier to fight in Sunday’s game, it is time to ask, going forward, should Rempe be more selective in his bouts? Almost every team has somebody who wants to test him. 

For the sake of Matt Tempe’s long term career, it might not be the worst idea for coach Peter Laviolette to give him a game off. At some point Laviolette has to tell him that everyone has their limits, or he has to figure it out by himself. 

Here to stay

It is very obvious, that Matthew Rempe is in the New York Rangers lineup and in the NHL to stay. He can skate, he can hit, he can play hockey in a fourth-line role. And he can fight. 

He has proceeded to make headlines in every game he has played. 

“I love what Rempe is doing”, said former NHL enforcer John Scott on “Dropping the Gloves” podcast on Monday. “He’s got the toughness tools and seems to be fearless. There are a few things I’d love to teach him to protect himself better and use his height to his advantage more.”

Scott’ s technical advice was that when you are 6”8, you need to grab the opponent by the neck and drive your fist up, so he can’t breathe and it is uncomfortable for him. According to John Scott, in the Olivier fight, Rempe grabbed him from behind the shoulder, which left the Blue Jackets player with a full range of motion. And then Olivier fed Rempe his lunch.

“And good on Rempe, he stuck in there for a long time. His face is probably mash potatoes this morning. But it was a great fight, it was a fun fight to watch. Ten out of ten for entertainment value.”

Enforcers have become a dying breed in the National Hockey League. Fights usually occur after illegal or questionable hits only. Very seldom do we see two tough guys plan a dust-up together in advance. It is almost unheard of to read about an upcoming game and start wondering which players will take on each other in a bare knuckle fight. 

But that’s exactly what many are doing now when the Rangers play. Thanks to a 21-year old. 

Matthew Rempe`s NHL career has now lasted five games. One goal (GWG), one assist, and three fights. He has already become a fan favourite in New York, without yet stepping on home ice. That will happen on Wednesday, when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit the Rangers. 

“Very eventful first week”, Rempe said in a ABC TV interview. “I want to bring that physicality that edge to the team, bring speed, fly in there, bang bodies, go to the net and I think I’m doing that.”

“I`m having so much fun.”

The New York Rangers have a giant in their lineup now. It is easy to see how the “weirdos, drunks, junkies, hoods, and seven-figure guys, who go to games in Madison Square Garden” (as the late great Frank Orr wrote), will quickly fall in love with their #73. 

We may never have seen another NHL toughie enter the Show and make a name for himself in such a fashion. Now almost everyone wants a piece of Rempe. Fortunately, not every team has a fighter on their roster, and Matthew Rempe can be valuable on the ice with his gloves on, too. 

The New York Rangers are the top team in the Eastern Conference as this is being written and second overall, one point behind the Vancouver Canucks in the entire NHL, with one game on hand. 

Everybody knows Matthew Rempe’s name. He didn’t arrive in the NHL by just tipping his toe in a little. He didn’t look like every other player. He is not every other guy, nor just another half wall guy. He has made his presence felt. He has written his own ticket and made a name for himself, his way. 

He wants to stay in the NHL, and have the best time doing it. He hasn’t backed down. He has given the New York Rangers, a top team in the NHL, a lot of confidence and energy. Coach Laviolette has talked about the team needing someone like that for a long time. 

As Frank Sinatra used to sing: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

Jouni Nieminen, Edmonton

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