'I became the Flamingo Man': Why there was a flamingo behind the New York Rangers goalie in Game 1

NEW YORK -- The fans behind Rangers star goalie Igor Shesterkin were a sea of blue jerseys and black commemorative T-shirts during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

Except for one distinct splash of neon pink, courtesy of the inflatable flamingo being waved furiously after each save in the Rangers' 6-2 victory.

"We've won the last two games I've been here," proudly boasted Matt Asen, a lifelong Rangers fan who lives in Florida.

Asen's inflatable flamingo had "Go Rangers, 2022, ECF" and the date of Wednesday night's game written on it. Actually, it was one of two inflatable flamingos he had at the game. The other one was in honor of the Rangers goalie.

"I've got an Igor flamingo down there that says 'Glove Save And a Beauty' on one side and 'Igor' on the other," he said. "I've got hundreds of flamingos."

At Madison Square Garden?

"No, I only have two of them with me now. The rest are elsewhere."

Asen is the guy who brings inflatable flamingos to sporting events. The tradition started with "a hard flamingo, like a Kmart flamingo" back in 1986, when he attended one of the most famous games in the history of New York sports: Game 6 of the World Series, when the ball traveled through Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's legs to help the New York Mets rally for a victory.

He had the flamingo because he and his friends were scalping tickets. In a world without cellphones, he figured the flamingo would enable them to spot each other at Shea Stadium. He ended up getting his picture taken and published in a Long Island newspaper, where his mother, who lived in Flushing, saw the photo and guilted him for coming up from Florida to attend a baseball game without stopping to say hello.

"Busted," he said.

He brought his lucky flamingo to Indiana for a Pacers' playoff game in 1987, their first postseason win, and made the front page of the Indianapolis Star.

"I became the Flamingo Man," Asen said.

He became a mainstay at Pacers games, bringing an array of signs to the games that would mock opponents. The Indy Star profiled him in 2014 as "the No. 1 Pacers fan." He has a collection of photos from those games saved on his phone, including one of him standing near former Miami Heat star LeBron James with a pink flamingo in his hands.

Asen's fandom has made national news. In a 2017 NBA playoff game between the Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving slapped a flamingo out of Asen's hand, in a clip that went viral. Asen had caught a ball that went out of bounds, and tried to hand his flamingo to Irving instead.

"He said 'gimme the ball!' and slaps it out of my hand," Asen said.

Through the years, Asen has had celebrities ranging from Spike Lee to Magic Johnson to Tom Hanks autograph his flamingos.

Perhaps Igor Shesterkin is next, as the Pacers Guy moonlights as the Rangers Guy during the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.