NY Hockey Report: Ranger Folk Hero Marek Malik
By Joe McDonald
NEW YORK – This season, the New York Rangers may not have the star power they had in the past. True, they have Jaromir Jagr, but on this team the unlikeliest of heroes are emerging.
They have come from all positions, which endeared them to the Garden crowd. And in the fifteenth round of a shootout against Washington two weeks ago, defenseman Marek Malik made a circus shot to give the Rangers the win and put him into the story book.
“I was watching everything before me,” said Malik. “[Washington goalie] Olie [Kolzig] was unbelievable, he stopped everything from shots, moves. I just thought to myself, ’Maybe I’ll surprise him.’ I tried the move and it worked.”
Malik waved to the crowd after the win and a folk hero was born. The defenseman followed up with the go ahead goal the next game in the Rangers 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was an amazing turnaround for a player, who Jagr said, “Wayne Gretzky couldn’t even set up.” “[Jagr] had a lot of joked on me lately, but it’s been working, so I don’t mind,” Malik smiled.
Signing as a free agent from the Vancouver Canucks on August 2, the 30 year-old came into the year with 27 goals for 114 points in 10 seasons. He does have five assists to go along with his one regulation goal this year. But known as a stay at home defenseman, Malik is better at blocking shots than putting them in.
And it the Rangers play of late that gives him satisfaction.
“As long as the team is playing well it makes me happy,” Malik said. “Personally, I put it higher than my individual stats.”
And with 39 points going into Wednesday’s game in Chicago, the Rangers are as hot as their defenseman.
But the savvy Garden crowd notices the hard work and when Malik attended a Knicks game with a few of his teammates, he got a nice hand from the Ranger fans’ basketball counterparts.
“I was kind of great,” he laughed. “Even though it was another sport, it was enjoyable.”
It didn’t compare to how the Ranger reacted when the team replayed shootout goal before the Penguins game. “Our fans are unbelievable and when they put it on the scoreboard, the fans cheering was a great feeling,” Malik said.
And that attention is made Coach Tom Renney very happy.
“It’s the beginning of Malik getting some respect,” Renney said. “When we spoke with the guys from Vancouver before we signed him, they told us we would be getting a pretty good hockey player.”
Don’t expect Malik to take over for Jagr or surprising rookie Petr Prucha as the Ranger offense, but he is still going to shoot.
Malik said, “I am going to do my best with the shots and hopefully they will go in.”
If he does, defenseman will continue to add to his Garden legend.