The Rangers' inseparable leaders

Thursday, 04.22.2010 / 11:03 AM / News
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The Rangers\' inseparable leaders
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

It has become the norm the past couple of years that when Ryan Callahan’s name is mentioned, more often than not so, too, is Chris Drury’s. And vice-versa. The two have become linked more closely than any other tandem on the New York Rangers.

In 2009-10, Callahan won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award for the second consecutive season and Drury was given the Players' Player Award by his teammates.
The reasons for that are many. Similar in physical stature, Callahan and Drury both play a grinding style and rely on their smarts as well as their skills out on the ice. Both players are outstanding penalty killers, and are usually paired on the same PK unit. In fact, Callahan spends quite a bit of his even-strength ice-time skating alongside Drury, as well. Drury, the team captain, wears a letter on his sweater as does Callahan, the team’s alternate captain. And, of course, both won silver medals while playing for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“I think we are similar types of players, but there is so much I can still learn from Dru,” explained Callahan, the 24-year-old right wing. “His experience; his preparation; his leadership. I am very fortunate to be able to spend so much time with him and be able to learn from him.”

Like the rest of his team, Callahan experienced a series of highs and lows this past season. He was named alternate captain by head coach John Tortorella at the start of the season, and he produced some big offensive games, including career-high four-point nights against the Islanders on Dec. 17 and the Canadiens exactly one month later. Callahan also was selected to represent the United States in the Winter Olympics and helped Team USA earn a silver medal, dropping an epic final game in overtime to Canada.

Unfortunately for the popular Callahan, many of his highs were off-set by the fact that the Rangers did not make the playoffs, along with the fact that he was forced to sit out the penultimate game in Philadelphia with an injured knee.

“I thought I had an OK year,” said Callahan, who won the club’s Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award for the second consecutive season. “Any time the team doesn’t have success it falls on everybody. So it was tough in that form; but I thought I brought some things this year like leadership aspects of the game. I look forward to bring that into next year.”

Callahan notched 19 goals this year, three shy of his career-high set the previous season. Nine of his goals were scored on the power play, the second highest total on the team, and three were game-winners.

No matter his numbers, the fact that he could not help lead the Blueshirts into post-season play bothered Callahan quite a bit once the 2009-10 had been completed.

“It’s a bad feeling, a sour feeling,” explained Callahan. “I remember losing in the first round last year, and that was terrible, too, but to not be a part of the playoffs is really tough.”

Drury, in his third year with the Rangers and second as captain, was voted by his teammates the Players' Player Award for being the Rangers player who best exemplifies what it means to be a teammate. He also was selected to be the Rangers’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is presented each season by the NHL to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.

Asked to play a variety of different roles by Tortorella, Drury accepted his ever-evolving on-ice role and displayed his usual passion on a game-in game-out basis. When the games mattered most down the stretch, Drury stepped up, scoring six of his 14 goals over the final two months of the season.

“Whatever role I was asked to do, whatever job I was asked to do on any given day, I just tried to do it the best I could,” said the 33-year-old Drury. “You always want to do more, no matter who you are or what you are. And I’m no different.”

It is that kind of drive in Drury that helps make the head coach a true fan of his captain.

“Dru wants to give more, he wants better stats, he wants to be that guy and he’s trying in different ways to contribute,” Tortorella said of Drury. “The thing is, even when he’s not scoring, he is doing so many important things out there on the ice that help you win hockey games.”

Like Callahan and Tortorella and the rest of the team, Drury was extremely disappointed that the Rangers did not earn a spot in the post-season. For an athlete widely recognized as a “big-game” player, one who owns a Stanley Cup ring already, to not take part in the playoffs is a huge blow to Drury.

“It’s awful and I have no plans of watching (the playoffs),” said Drury. “It’s not a good feeling. Our goal was to be in the playoffs, and once you’re in anything can happen.”

After the season ended Tortorella expressed his support of the leadership provided by both the veteran Drury and the younger Callahan. Though he mentioned that the team needed to have more character as a whole, Tortorella went out of his way to say that in no way did that reflect on the leadership core of the team, led by Drury and Callahan.

In fact, the head coach believes that both players took major strides forward as team leaders this season, and the players themselves are in agreement.

“The biggest thing for me was to go out there every night and put it on the line and work hard and set an example that way,” explained Callahan. “I just tried to play consistently, and have the guys follow in that way. I felt that I did that the best I could this year. Now I want to grow and be an even better leader.”

Tortorella has shared his belief that there is a strong core of Rangers moving forward into next season. There is Henrik Lundqvist in goal and Marian Gaborik to lead the offense. There is the list of young players growing together at the NHL level like Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov.

And there is the seemingly inseparable twosome of Drury and Callahan. Together. Of course.