You know the scene in the movie, “Big” with the skyscraper toy? The obnoxious and insecure junior executive turns to the Elizabeth Perkins character and says, “This doesn’t just happen … this guy … this doesn’t happen … he doesn’t just come into a meeting and say, ‘Bugs.’ ”
But that is exactly what the Tom Hanks character did. He said, “Bugs,” and the rest was history.
You know what else just doesn’t happen, at least with the Rangers? You don’t have an unheralded journeyman (middle-aged for a hockey player) sign as a free agent, walk onto the team and start scoring goals as if he were the second coming of Rod Gilbert.
But that is exactly what Colin Blackwell is doing. Embedded on a franchise with a history littered with big-name acquisitions past their prime who, more often than not, left their games behind, Blackwell is the Bizarro Ranger.
I’m not sure there is an historical equivalent to this 27-year-old (for another 17 days) out of Harvard who tops out at about 5-foot-9, doesn’t own great wheels, but just keeps scoring goals. Again, this doesn’t just happen with the Rangers.
Maybe one of these days, coach David Quinn will even have to stop apologizing for giving Blackwell a top-six assignment.
Ryan Callahan wore No. 43 in his rookie season for the Blueshirts, and if Blackwell, now No. 43, is not quite the one-time captain, if you imagine it with enough conviction, maybe you would see similarities. Blackwell is the responsible one. He’s the one digging along the walls and in the corners, he’s the one keeping pucks alive, he’s the one absorbing punishment and going to the front of the net.
He’s the one who scored the 2-0 goal midway through the second period of Friday night’s impressive 4-1 victory over the Islanders at the Coliseum by going to the front, sniffing a puck in his skates and flicking it past Semyon Varlamov. He’s the one who has scored six goals in the past seven games. He’s the one with 12 goals in 31 games after having scored three in 33 career games entering the season.
He’s the one who leads the Rangers and is third in the NHL (among those with at least 350 minutes) in overall goals per 60:00 at 1.74. He’s the one who leads the Rangers and is third in the NHL (325 minutes-plus) in five-on-five goals per 60:00 at 1.53. (Thanks, Natural Stat Trick.)
Blackwell, whose previous NHL experience came with the Predators after prior stops with the San Jose and Buffalo organizations, has consistently talked about believing in himself. He has insisted that none of this is a surprise to him. This is not a new stance for him. When he attended the Sabres’ rookie camp in 2017, this is what he said to the Olean Times Herald:
“I’ve always learned that being patient, good things will happen and something will pop up. I think the only thing that I can do — and it’s the hardest thing for an athlete — is kind of believe in yourself. Confidence is everything. I think once I get the opportunity to show my stuff, I’ll be good to go.”
Blackwell was saying that then, and he is saying that now. The thing is, though, there was never a guarantee he was going to get that opportunity. It took this time, this team, this coach.
“For a lot of people, the opportunity doesn’t really come,” Blackwell said following this victory, in which his team did a 360 from the previous night’s grievous performance against the Penguins.
“I’ve been in a couple of different organizations now and kind of felt like I was just, the way I describe it is, that sweatshirt you haven’t worn in four or five years and then you see your brother wearing it, your sister wearing it and you kind of get rattled because it has a little sentimental value and you don’t want to give it up.
“I feel like I just haven’t been given an opportunity and haven’t been given a chance or anything along those lines. For me, from Day One since I got here, I truly felt that my teammates, the coaching staff and management believed in me, and that’s why I thought it would be a great fit,” the Massachusetts native said. “When the opportunity comes you have to make the most of it. I try to do that every single day.
“There’s definitely a couple of times I’ve bounced around. I’ve learned from it. But I would have given up a heck of a long time ago if I didn’t believe in myself.”
There is no precedent for this in franchise history, Go on, prove me wrong. This just doesn’t happen.