Let’s travel back in time to September of 2005, when Ryan Callahan, a fourth-round draft choice from 2004 — “The fourth-round of my second year of draft eligibility,” Callahan reminded — was at his first Rangers training camp.
This was the Blue-White intrasquad game that marked the annual climax of camp. And in that match, the 20-year-old right winger… well…
“Rick Kozak and I were the only two players in camp who didn’t play in the Blue-White game,” Callahan said on Sunday during a telephone conversation. “I’m there and thinking, ‘What? What now, if I can’t even play in this game?’”
What then is that six years later, Callahan would be named Rangers’ captain.
“See, that’s it for me right there,” John Tortorella, who was behind the bench for most of Callahan’s run in New York, told The Post during a telephone conversation on Tuesday. “I didn’t know that about the Blue-White game, but the first thing about Ryan Callahan is that he was a self-made player.
“Nobody gave him anything. He put so much into the game. In my mind, he epitomized the way you have to play the game, at least in my opinion. He did it by pure effort and desire. Never took a shift off. Never took a practice off.”
And that’s how he becomes the captain of the Rangers. The G-D Original Six New York Rangers!
Callahan’s final game with the Rangers was on March 2, 2014. Three days later he would be traded after a contract negotiating impasse to Tampa Bay in an exchange for Martin St. Louis. He would play around five years for Tampa Bay before a degenerative back disease ended his career. His final NHL game came on April 16, 2019 against Tortorella’s Blue Jackets.
And on Wednesday, a 35-year-old Callahan officially announced his retirement.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment but I’m at peace here,” said Callahan, who moved back to upstate New York and has settled down in Rochester with his brood. “Last year when I couldn’t play, I really felt it at the start of training camp and then when the playoffs began, but I adapted to it and I accepted it.
“So here I am. It’s kind of time.”
Callahan was the right man at the right time for the Rangers and for Tortorella. He was the captain of his times too, the leader of a team that rose to the NHL’s upper echelon by transforming into the Black-and-Blueshirts.
There was never a shot he wouldn’t throw himself in front of to block. And that went for exhibition games as well, even in the 2011 camp that was six months after Callahan broke his ankle by diving in front of a Zdeno Chara slap shot and thus missed the playoffs.
“There had kind of been a switch in the organization from veterans to a group of younger guys that I was a part of,” said Callahan, whose Blueblooded running mates would come to feature Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Artem Anisimov and Michael Del Zotto.
“It was a start of a new chapter and I wanted to be one of the leaders. The way to do that was through the way I played. I did everything I could to help the team win on every shift. I did everything I could.”
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