Posted: Wednesday December 20, 2006 12:21PM; Updated: Thursday December 21, 2006 1:34AM
Mark Messier sticks it to Jaromir Jagr while Mario Lemieux and Brendan Shanahan (with son Jack) look on at Madison Square Garden.
Brian Cazeneuve will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
On a night when the cross-town rival Islanders spoiled the party, the Rangers still managed to surprise two of their stars at Madison Square Garden. In a ceremony before the Isles' 4-3 victory on Tuesday, the Rangers presented Brendan Shanahan and Jaromir Jagr with silver sticks commemorating the 600th goals of their respective careers, scored earlier this season. Shanahan scored his on opening night against the Capitals. Jagr followed with No. 600 on Nov. 19.
As both players skated out to receive their sticks, they were greeted by surprise guests. Jagr knew his parents (Jaromir Sr. and Anna) and girlfriend Inna were in town, but had no idea they'd be introduced at center ice. Shanahan was greeted by his wife, Catherine, children Cate, Jack and Maggie, and his mother, Rose, who had flown in, to his surprise, from Ontario that afternoon.
Then three other unexpected members of the 600-goal club were introduced: Ranger legend Mark Messier; Steve Yzerman -- Shanahan's longtime teammate in Detroit -- and Mario Lemieux, Jagr's great teammate in Pittsburgh. For those keeping score, that's 3,304 goals, 4,815 assists, 8,119 points and 16 Stanley Cups in one faceoff circle -- numbers that must be a first.
The plan worked wonders on active superstars and alumni alike. The hugs and smiles at center ice were extended and heartfelt, something fairly rare given an impending game with playoff implications. "It was great to see him," Jagr said of Lemieux after the game. "Next to my parents, he was the biggest influence on my career. He changed my style of hockey."
"When the Rangers called me a couple of weeks ago, I told them I'd be glad to come," said Lemieux, who won Cups with Jagr in 1991 and 1992. "He's done so much for me and my family over the years."
It was a wonderful coincidence that when Jagr first joined the Pens to complement his senior superstar, a scribe noted that that the letters in the name Jaromir can be rearranged to spell Mario Jr.
Jagr's parents had been following the Rangers on their recent slide that began with a 9-2 thumping at the Air Canada Centre against the Leafs on Saturday and continued with a bad loss at home to the Devils on Sunday. "They came at the wrong time, before the Toronto game," Jagr joked. "I think they should please take their things and go tomorrow."
Even more than Jagr, Shanahan seemed floored by his family's complicity in the celebration. "My family did a good job of keeping it a secret," he said after the game. "One giveaway I didn't catch was when my wife asked if I was going to shave before the game. I didn't shave because I didn't know this was going to be a photo opportunity. I should have known something was up . . . My kids have an early bedtime. They've only seen four or five games and this is the first one at night."
Shanahn offered his thoughts on Yzerman: "Steve and I were roommates early in our careers. We sat next to each other on the team bus all the time. He was a great example of an all-around player. He displayed to teammates every night how playing both ends can benefit you and not take away from the attention you get for your stats."
Asked what qualities Shanahan brought to mind, the longtime Detroit captain answered: "I think of a great goal-scorer with a tremendous shot. But in Detroit, he accepted a lesser role, because we had so many people getting ice time, and he never complained about it."
In a losing cause, Jagr and Shanahan each recorded three-point nights. Shanahan scored his 23rd goal, leaving him one off the league lead, and Jagr netted two, giving him 50 points on the season. Jason Blake's three goals, a natural hat trick in the first and second periods, allowed the Islanders to win 4-3 and pull within three points of the Atlantic-Division leading Rangers.