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Rangers ready without Jagr

October 05, 2008|Steve Zipay | Newsday

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Rising in a gray semi-industrial area near a battered subway stop and a Soviet-era police station, the shimmering blue, circular O2 Arena is the first stop for the Rangers on the ride that is the 2008-09 season.

On Thursday, about 10,000 Czechs, many wearing blue No. 68 Jaromir Jagr jerseys, forked over hundreds of hard-earned kroners to watch a tired Rangers team in an open practice for about 45 minutes.

"I hope they didn't pay much," Coach Tom Renney said before climbing onto a podium near the newly arranged media center. "One of the worst practices we've had."

Not that it wouldn't have been any crisper with Jagr, the former captain who now toils (for a cool $7 million a year at a 13% tax rate) for Avangard Omsk of Russia's new Kontinental Hockey League. Omsk is in southwestern Siberia. But his absence was felt, from the members of the Rangers Prague Fan Club, who will fill Section 107 this weekend, to the team itself.

"I think Jaromir was such a huge presence on our team, obviously physically, but even from his personality," Renney said. "He was a very engaging guy and extremely well liked by his teammates. There is something left in his wake, no question. But it's time to provide opportunity for someone else or others. Often times in cases like Jaromir's, it takes a couple of players to replace someone like that, not just one."

Some observers took Renney's comment as a signal that centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez would be named co-captains Friday when the Rangers return for a more spirited skate. Another indicator? It was both Gomez and Drury who decided to have the Victoria Cup presented to the Rangers' Russians, Nikolai Zherdev and Dmitri Kalinin, after the last-minute win over Mettalurg Magnitogorsk Wednesday night in Bern, Switzerland.

Now before anyone weeps in their local pivo (beer) for the Rangers, the Lightning, which faces the Rangers Saturday and today, haven't had it easy either. On Sunday and Monday, they flew from Prague to Berlin and beat a club team, then jetted to Slovakia for another exhibition.

For the Rangers, the post-practice mood in the dressing room was one of relief, having won two consecutive games after a 1-5 preseason, with rallies in Bern against a Swiss club and Mettalurg, although Renney said he'd rather not get in the habit of playing two good periods and four crummy ones.

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