Staff Picks: I believe I’m responsible for the first ‘Hen-rik’ chant at MSG
Bob Doda, Digital Producer
On Oct. 13, 2005 - I’m almost certain that I was the first to start the now famous “Hen-rik” chant during his Madison Square Garden debut in a 4-1 win over the Devils.
At the time, my brother and I had recently fulfilled a lifelong dream to become season ticket holders for the New York Rangers, the team we watched in the days of Kelly Kisio and Darren Turcotte.
We had planned on getting those tickets for the 2004-05 season, which would have been The Captain’s final stretch on Broadway, but the lockout ended that hope and he retired before the league went through serious changes.
It was disappointing for two 20-somethings who wanted to be there for his final season, but what we got in return was the privilege of watching a New York legend in the earliest days of his career.
Fifteen years and 25,610 saves later, Henrik Lundqvist is no longer a member of the New York Rangers – and while many will lament the cupless king, he will go down in history as one of the classiest and most popular sports figures in New York sports history.
After the lockout, the Rangers looked much different. Gone were the big-name, high-priced stars (Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Bobby Holik) as well as the mainstays (Messier, Leetch, and Alexei Kovalev). A true rebuild was about to take place centered around the ageless wonder, Jaromir Jagr.
Young, hardworking players like Ryan Hollweg, Jed Ortmeyer and Blair Betts on the 2005-06 team will always have a home in my heart. In light of the crackdown on bullying, I’d like to take this moment to personally apologize to Tom Poti.
The first game of the season was an absolute disaster for me. I spent the day carrying mail for the Smithtown Post Office, then raced to catch a train to Penn Station. I arrived just as it pulled away. I waited for the next train and arrived in time for the third period. They lost in OT to the Montreal Canadiens.
Between the pipes to start the season was Kevin Weekes, but it wasn’t long before a groin injury opened the door to Henrik Lundqvist, a rookie goalie from Sweden who dazzled the roaring crowds with his poise and patience in net. Soon, The Post’s Larry Brooks called him “King Henrik” - a name that stuck for his career.
“I watched a couple of games here a couple of years ago where the crowd was not cheering,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a good crowd, but it’s a tough crowd. I’m just happy they know who I am.”
Section 409 at the Garden no longer exists, but in 2005 it was the place to be. There was Tim the Cop, Kevin the Banker, Mrs. Hurley - who loved to skate in Dix Hills - and her husband “Pistol” Pete. George and his son. And the brothers Doda - strangers in a familiar land. We were embraced immediately because we were always ready with good in-game commentary and jokes.
We were also two sections over from nightly performances by “Dancing” Larry.
It was a chant-friendly section, and I can say for certain that I was the first to chant Hen-rik in 409. I have witnesses. Clearly, it wasn’t the first time it had been chanted during his time as a goalie, but this was his New York City welcoming party, and the crowd was with him from day one. And why not? The Rangers were relevant again, and fans were excited not only to have hockey back after a lost season, but a winner on Broadway.
One of the highlights of that season had to be the 15-round shootout vs. Olaf Kolzig and the Washington Capitals (featuring a 20-year-old Alexander Ovechkin). Lost in the unexpected heroism of Marek Malik’s between-the-legs winner was the Rangers’ rookie netminder standing on his head to keep his team alive.
When the dust settled after their swift exit from the playoffs, Lundqvist was the future of the franchise.
He began his career with seven-consecutive 30-win seasons which was only ended due to the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. His 30-win seasons resumed through 2016-17.
One of those wins came at the team’s first Winter Classic in Philadelphia in 2012. With the score 3-2 and 20 seconds remaining in the third period, Ryan McDonagh was called for covering the puck in the crease (he didn’t) and Daniel Briere was awarded a penalty shot.
This was Henrik’s Richter vs. Bure moment. And he came out on top, closing the 5-hole.
These were “the window” years, which included a Stanley Cup appearance and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances where the team fell short. There were OT wins/losses, implausible saves and major disappointments.
But even when the writing was on the wall and in a letter to fans, Lundqvist stayed committed to a New York rebuild.
Luckily, I got to tip my hat one last time on Nov. 25 for Mats Zuccarello’s return to MSG this past November. It was Lundqvist’s 455th win, giving him sole possession of fifth most in the league’s history (he was surpassed by Marc-Andre Fleury).
On Sept. 30, 2020 – the Rangers bought out the remaining year on the 38-year-old’s seven-year contract, giving way to the talented tandem of Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev.
The move allows the team to save cash and avoid a three’s-company scenario they faced last year.
His final tally:
459-310 in 871 starts
61 playoff wins (team record)
64 shutouts (team record)
First goalie to record back-to-back 50+ save performances (Feb. 28, March 2, 2018)
5 All-Star teams
5 Vezina nominations (2012 winner)
First Stanley Cup appearance for the team in 20 seasons (2014)
6-2 in game 7s
2 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Awards
As a fan, I look forward to chanting “Hen-rik” whenever he returns to visit the Garden in the future either with another team, but especially when his No. 30 is raised to the rafters.
He did it with class and raised millions of dollars for kids in New York City and in Sweden along the way. He will never be forgotten on Broadway. Long live the King.