FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – During the middle of the NHL season, New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson wanted to check out a New York Rangers game “to try just something different." He walked out a hockey fan.
Improbably, the Rangers made the Stanley Cup Final and are playing the Los Angeles Kings for their first championship since the fabled 1994 squad ended decades of anguish for Rangers fans. Perhaps more improbable, Wilkerson became a rabid hockey fan and one of the biggest supporters of the Rangers during their run.
“They've got great fans, New York fans. For me at 300 pounds, I'm not ice skating,” Wilkerson said. “Stopping on a dime, skating the way they do, it is awesome. Their love for the game, it is awesome. I don't know, I'm just a fan now. I love it, love going to the games.”
He is still working on trying to secure tickets for Game 3 and Game 4 next week and already his hockey fandom is catching on in a locker room that largely doesn't understand the sport let alone has played it. When Wilkerson started talking about the Rangers, teammate and fellow defensive lineman Leger Douzable chimed in from several lockers down: “Hey man, you're taking me right?”
Wilkerson waved away Douzable's request, much like he has been seen on television throughout the playoffs waving a towel over his head to support the blue shirts. He smiled though and acknowledged he likely will bring a teammate to the game next week.
“I will probably bring one of the guys,” Wilkerson said. “We'll just have to see which one. Wait to see which one makes the best offer.”
He then smirked and laughed, with perhaps an opportunistic gleam in his eye.
But he isn't just another a voice at Madison Square Garden, not by any stretch. He's become friends with the players on the team, including Ryan McDonagh, a defenseman on the Rangers who he met at a charity event. He admittedly had some nerves headed into the series against the Kings.
The Rangers lost Game 1 in overtime on Wednesday, but there's still plenty of time for the team to make good on Wilkerson's confident Joe Namath-like prediction before the series.
“Rangers in six, I think,” Wilkerson said.
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Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer