If it was Jaromir Jagr, you might have expected it. Martin Straka would’ve even been believable. But if you had to bank on one of the Rangers’ many Czech players ending what was then the longest shootout in NHL history by taking a shot from in-between his legs, the offensively challenged Marek Malik wouldn’t have been your choice. But 10 years ago, on November 26, 2005, Malik did just that.
“Its funny, I do not remember the game,” said Tom Renney, the Rangers’ head coach at the time. “I certainly remember the shootout. I have never been a big fan of shootouts but it was just an awful lot of fun. It got to the point where it almost didn’t matter who won. It was just entertaining and the guys on the bench were as entertained as anyone. It got to the point where it was kind of comical.”
The shootout ended up going 15 rounds and just like anyone would expect, it was filled with drama. The Rangers shot second and had to match the Capitals throughout the duration of the “skills competition.”
In the sixth round, Brian Willsie was able to score for the Capitals but Ville Nieminen was able to get one as well to keep the shootout knotted.
In the 14th round, the Capitals’ Bryan Muir scored and Renney had to make a very difficult decision; he needed to find someone to answer. The three remaining players who hadn’t shot yet were Jason Strudwick, Marek Malik and Darius Kasparaitis.
“He (Kasparaitis) kept looking at me every time I looked toward that end of the bench,” Renney said. “I was doing everything I could to not make eye contact with him. Kasparaitis was doing everything he could to make eye contact with me and Strudwick was doing everything he could to not make eye contact with me. There was a certain irony in all of that.”
Despite Studwick’s apparent reluctance, Renney selected him anyway. The gritty forward was not all that confident in his offensive abilities when he hopped over the boards, especially because he knew he had to score to keep this shootout going.
“I was thinking there was no way I was going to score,” Strudwick said while laughing. “I remember Tom calling my name I pretended I did not hear him. He looked over and I was like ‘oh god’. Over my career I wasn’t really an offensive type guy. Part of me was praying someone would have scored earlier to just end it, but part of me was thinking I actually want a chance at this.”
When Renney selected Strudwick to shoot, his teammates had the utmost confidence.
“I thought we lost the game,” Darius Kasparaitis said jokingly when he remembered the moment Strudwick jumped over the boards. “When he (Strudwick) scored we were so excited to still have a chance to win but nobody expected that.”
In the 15th round we all remember what happened: Marek Malik pulled off an incredible move, putting the puck between his own legs and beating the Capitals’ goaltender Olaf Kolzig to send Madison Square Garden into a frenzy.
“I was expecting to see a shot,” Renney recalled. “I certainly was not expecting, as was no one else in the building expecting to see what he did. It was completely out there and maybe that was the right approach. Maybe Malik was having just enough fun watching all of this as I think we all did. It kind of didn’t matter so go try something. He did and it worked.”
Kasparaitis was less than thrilled he got passed over again in the 15th round and had some words for his coach after the shootout.
“I was the last guy and Tom Renney told me earlier, ‘we are going to send the trainer before we send you,’” Kasparaitis said. “I remember after Malik’s goal I told the coach, you do not have to let me shoot today, maybe next time.”
The NHL had just returned from the lockout, which caused the league to cancel the entire 2004-05 season. The fans were angry needed a reason to return to the game they loved.
The shootout was used as a gimmick in 2005 to create more entertainment and excitement. A 15-round shootout in the second month of the season certainly helped captivate the audience.
“I witnessed the Malik shootout goal in person and knew at the time, there were going to be so many memorable moments in shootouts,” said Mark Rosenman, co-author of Shoot to Thrill: The History of Hockey’s Shootout. “I do believe the shootout ran its course and have since enjoyed the change to overtime rules but at the time, the Malik deke was one of the craziest hockey moments I have ever experienced.”
The Rangers and Knicks often play doubleheaders but it is hard to find a more entertaining regular season twin bill then the one that took place in that November. Earlier that day Knicks’ guard Nate Robinson hit a game-winning three in overtime to send New York basketball fans home happy.
“We were aware of what happened earlier but it didn’t resonate till after our game,” Renney said. “The reference was made to such and it became even more comical.”
The Malik moment has become an iconic moment in Rangers history but not only did he help win the game, but that season was the first time they made the playoffs since 1996-97 and they have only missed it once since.
“If you fast-forward to what the Rangers are doing now,” Strudwick said. “It kind of started with Tom Renney and that group after that lockout.”