2005-12-30 / Sports

New York Hockey Report: When Rangers’ Poti Gets Cheered

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

New York Rangers’ Tom Poti, left, celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against Tampa Bay Lightning goal tender John Grahame.  (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
New York Rangers’ Tom Poti, left, celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against Tampa Bay Lightning goal tender John Grahame. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) NEW YORK – There is always one every year and deserved or not, the role of Madison Square Garden whipping boy is not a good position to hold.

And for the last few years, Tom Poti has been the number one target of the home Ranger crowd, which is something he takes in stride. He said the booing doesn’t really bother him and added, “I think my dad was the most negative guy on me and growing up I think it helped prepare me for now. He’s has been in my corner 100 percent and [the fans] are too. They have been patient and it’s been good.”

Perhaps, but Poti has taken a large and maybe unfair amount of abuse from Ranger fans since he was traded from the Edmonton Oilers for popular left wing Mike York back in March, 2002. The defenseman was expected to be an offensive compliment to Brian Leetch and eventually replace the future Hall of Famer on the point for the power play. Unfortunately for Poti and the Rangers, it didn’t turn out that way.

After a 48-point season – a career high - in 2002-03, the Worchester, MA native declined the next season to 24 points [10 goals and 14 assists]. Too many times he looked tentative with shooting the puck, which grated on the Garden crowd and committed too many mental errors with the puck, which caused sloppy turnovers. And at 6’3”, 202 lbs, Poti should be more physical, but he wasn’t.

It unfairly made him the target – when it wasn’t Glen Sather - of the mob last season, even though there was plenty of blame to go around.

With a lockout, there should have been a clean slate, but a slow start continued to cause fans to target Poti. He was benched early in the season, but started to come on about 20 games in. Through the first 35 games this year, the 28 year-old had 10 assists, but no goals and the boos continued. In game 36, he came through with a late game-winning goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning and that turned all the jeers into cheers.

“I hope so,” Poti thought. “[The fans] have been great and they have been patient. I started the season slow, but after 20 games, I felt like I was back to my old self. I now am able to create some offense.” It’s the goals from the blue line the Rangers have been missing, so the team needs Poti to start lighting the lamp more often.

“Tom is the most comfortable doing that because that has been his game his whole career,” Coach Tom Renney said. “He’s a good presence for us and a good offensive threat as a defensemen. Most importantly he knows when to augment his offensive attack in his defense.”

And that’s been the problem. Though he won’t outright admit it, Poti hinted at being bothered by the booing. Sometimes a hostile crowd can be counterproductive to a player and New York is notoriously unmerciful to players. The defensemen is now at make or break time and if he doesn’t produce, the Rangers will probably let him walk after the season.

It will end a sad chapter for Poti, who could have become one of the more popular Rangers rather than one of the most hated. Think about it, the defenseman is one of three Americans on the team and the only one from the Northeast. Even though he his from Boston, Poti is a Yankee fans and has blended into the city well. But his play on the ice has prevented any popularity from happening.

But it’s not too late for him. With over half a season left, Poti does have a chance to turn around his Ranger career, which is something Renney think could happen.

“I hope that I can provide the forum for which he can do it,” the coach thought. “He’s sat out in the past because of me, but at the same time, he’s played and played a lot. He will continue to play because of how he delivered since. So I would like Tom Poti to become so important to this team that the fans recognize it.”

And Poti thinks he could be on the road to becoming a fan favorite.“I have been trying my best, but at times things didn’t go my way,” he said. “You get frustrated and I understand that. But they have been pretty patient and I hope they know I am playing hard every night.”

Which may be the first step to becoming a former Garden whipping boy.

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