Rangers visit NYC firehouses

NEW YORK -- Seeing that room inside the house of FDNY Engine 4, Ladder 15, the one full of plaques and other items in tribute to the 14 firefighters it lost on Sept. 11, 2001, put it all in perspective for New York Rangers coach John Tortorella.

His team might grab the national headlines. They might even command all the attention, like they did when they went from firehouse to firehouse on a rainy afternoon Tuesday in New York City.

But to Tortorella, it's those individuals who lost their lives on Sept. 11 being honored in that room, and those who continue to serve for that house and the numerous others in New York City, that are the ones who should be getting the attention.

"We're always looking for heroes in sports, the winning goal, the touchdown, but that's it there, that's the real stuff," Tortorella said as he pointed to the room honoring those who died on Sept. 11. "Players are performers. That's the real stuff there. You go through that room there, that's just amazing to me. We live in a bubble ... in the sports world we live in a bubble and that's real stuff there. They're the real heroes as far as what continues to go on as far as what they do for work. Not us."

Tortorella and the Rangers participated in their 9/11 Road Tour & Reception Tuesday afternoon in New York City, visiting three firehouses before a reception at Tower 7, which overlooks Ground Zero. The Rangers, who had 19 players in attendance, were joined by families from the Garden of Dreams Foundation, the Wounded Warrior Project, NYPD Widows & Children Fund and the uniformed Firefighter's Association.

"I think it's great that the Rangers do this and I think there was no question that everyone wanted to do this," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "Everybody wanted to come out and see these people and hear some stories. We try to show them our support and they mean a lot to this city and they've been through a lot of tough times. I think everybody is happy and excited to be here and offer support."

The Rangers' trips to each fire house consisted primarily of the team shaking hands and talking to each of the members of the house, as well as signing autographs and jerseys and checking out the memorials that each house has for those they lost on Sept. 11. Some of the players, including defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Ryan Callahan, even put on the firefighters' equipment.

The team also presented jerseys to each firehouse, with the firehouse's numbers on the back. The tour started at Ladder 3, Battalion 6, followed by the trip to Engine 4, Ladder 15, and the visit concluded at Engine 24, Ladder 5. Each of those houses lost individuals on Sept. 11 and had memorials set up.

Following the visits, there was a reception at Tower 7, where the Rangers again signed autographs for the families and members of the military in attendance.

For the firefighters, who are enduring a tough week with the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 just five days away, getting to see the Rangers helped bring some smiles.

"This is a big treat for us," said Lt. Mike Thomas, who is with Engine 24, Ladder 5. "This is a nice little break from the stressful week it's been leading up to 9/11. It has been stressful. There's a lot going on, a lot of preparations and a lot of memories."

Marie Anaya of Rockland County, who lost husband, Charlie, on Sept. 11, traveled with the Rangers from house to house on the double-decker buses the team drove around in. Her husband actually served with Engine 4, Ladder 15 and Marie, who was with her children, commended the Rangers on how they interacted with the families and firefighters.

"It takes a moment away from what's going on," Anaya said. "This week is a rough week. You can't not think about it. It's 10 years but it's still like yesterday."

Every Ranger in attendance spoke glowingly of the experience of getting to meet the firefighters and families who had lost loved ones on that day. It's a day that everyone in attendance won't forget.

"If this isn't a life-changing experience for some of these guys, especially some of the young guys on our team, then wake up," Tortorella said. "I'm just glad we're able to be a part of it."

Matt Ehalt is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.