NEW YORK — If fans watching the New York Rangers hockey team warm-ups didn't notice No. 11, that was a compliment to Richard Dean Anderson.
"There's nothing more embarrassing to me than some celebrity type to get into a professional sports arena with some team and essentially get in the way. From the word go, I did not want to be in the way," said Anderson, star of the television series "MacGyver."
Anderson, a Minnesotan, once aspired to play in the National Hockey League but had the dream shattered by a series of injuries, including two broken arms, incurred playing on his varsity team.
Today he is the hero of the ABC series, now in its second season.
The Rangers, far from snubbing him as a celebrity interloper, turned out to be fans of "MacGyver" and jokingly asked him to fix their equipment. His TV character uses scientific knowledge and ordinary objects to invent solutions to international predicaments from acid leaks to kidnapings.
When Anderson was offered the chance at a promotional appearance with the Rangers during warm-ups for a game with the Hartford Whalers recently, he didn't hesitate.
"I told them that I'd give them my firstborn and an arm and a leg, if that's what they wanted. I'd give anything to do that," he said in the interview room after the workout, his face still dripping sweat.
"Seriously, I was a nervous wreck out there. This is kind of a culmination of a little boy's dream come true--I had all kinds of aspirations and dreams of being a professional hockey player when I was growing up."
Despite his success as "MacGyver," Anderson's love of hockey is so great that there was a time he might have traded acting for hockey.
"I had this notion a while ago that if I could have traded, I would," he said. "I would love to have pursued a career as a professional hockey player. In retrospect, I realize I probably wouldn't have made it, but the dream is still there."
Anderson plays on a celebrity hockey team that he organized to play for charities.
At 36, Anderson said, he would be "over the hill" by now, though he looks much younger and blended in with the other players at Madison Square Garden.
"I went out to Rye (N.Y.) and skated with them during their morning workout," he said. "The thing that dawned on me is the guys who are out there are just kids, babies. Big, strong, tough babies. But I was just awed by the whole experience of being out there. Obviously you skate a lot faster when you're down on the ice than what you can observe from the stands. So getting that close is a pretty humbling experience.
"The game to me is extremely graceful--aggressive, granted; it's an aggressive sport and a contact sport--but it's graceful; there's an element of dancer's improvisation. There are set plays, individual prowess is needed and obviously teamwork. It's a complete support system, it's like a little family, a very private family.
"I took a friend of mine to a hockey game one time and a fight eventually broke out and she asked me why they were fighting. I tried to explain and stopped in midsentence and realized there was no way to explain all the little things that take place in the course of the game."
He said that he has thrown off the gloves himself, in a charity game.
"This guy, Mike Byers (a former NHL player), he started taking the stick across my chest, kind of holding me up and checking me real tough, and started getting higher and higher on my body, and finally it was across my neck.
"This was a like a charity game and they're winning, 9-3, and I took off my gloves. Now this guy was known to be able to hold his own in fisticuffs, and all my team members are going 'No, no, forget it!' We both got two minutes."