NEW YORK — John Davidson made his way into the hearts and homes of Ranger fans years ago, first backstopping the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Final in 1979 and later as a broadcaster on MSG Network. Though the Calgary native never imagined himself calling the big city home growing up, there came a time when he couldn't think of anywhere else where he'd rather be. He may have left for about 13 years to build a career as an executive but he returned to New York this week to serve as president of the team he led to victory in the '70s and the team he provided color commentary for for so many years. “Dreams do come true,” Davidson said Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Davidson never intended to leave the Rangers or broadcast booth. He became one of the most recognizable and beloved voices of the game, teaming with Sam Rosen to provide color commentary for Ranger games for years and eventually becoming a national voice, serving alongside legendary former Devils' play-by-play man Mike "Doc" Emrick on national Stanley Cup and Olympic broadcasts.
Former Rangers' goalie John Davidson was introduced as team president. Abbey Mastracco, Staff Writer, @AbbeyMastracco
But in 2006, he was burned out on broadcasting and a new opportunity was presented to him by the team that drafted him in 1973. The St. Louis Blues offered him a job as team president and he accepted. “If you don’t try things in life, you have regrets,” he said. “I think at the time, I probably could have gotten back into television somewhere if it didn’t work out or didn’t go well. But through the ups and downs, it worked out. And I think I have a pretty good understanding of this league now. More than when I left for St. Louis.”Davidson was tasked with rebuilding the Blues from the ground up. He oversaw the drafting and development of several of their key players, including a few who will play for the Stanley Cup this week, like captain Alex Pietrangelo and goalie Jordan Binnington.After six years, he left the Blues to build the Columbus Blue Jackets. More: Devils-Rangers rivalry will rise to another level after 2019 NHL DraftTime to dream: How Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko fit for Devils and Rangers
You could make the joke that Davidson has always been blue-blooded but it’s clear that he bleeds Ranger blue. “This is the only organization I ever would have left Columbus for,” he said. “The Blue Jackets are a very proud club, and I wish them all the best. They're in very good hands.”It was an emotional reunion between the beloved former goalie and the organization he made a home with for so many years. Even James Dolan, the chairman and CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company and principal owner of the Rangers, needed a moment to collect his thoughts before he addressed a crowd and welcomed home “J.D.” Story continues after gallery
It was a surreal moment for all involved. “You know, in some ways, it hasn’t set in just yet,” Davidson said. “It’s kind of strange. When you move away like we did 13 years ago, that was a leap of faith that one. We had a wonderful life here at the time with Madison Square Garden Network.” There were other candidates general manager Jeff Gorton flirted with to replace Glen Sather, who stepped down from the position in April. Former Tampa Bay Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman was one name rumored to be in the mix. But fittingly enough, Yzerman went back to the team where he made his career as a player and executive, the Detroit Red Wings.If Yzerman’s return to Michigan was destiny then Davidson’s return to New York must be fate. “I lived here previously for 28 years, raised two daughters here, had a wonderful life,” Davidson said. “Not a born New Yorker but I think I became a New Yorker. It's always been in my blood.”Of course, the allure could wear off if the rebuild doesn’t go according to plan. Former greats have been chased out of this town before, sometimes even by Dolan himself. But to the 66-year-old Davidson, the business of hockey is the business of pressure. He faced pressure as a player, as a broadcaster on live television and as an executive tasked with building two organizations. Davidson has great reverence for the Original Six teams and cares deeply about the history and brand that comes along with the Rangers’ name. It’s not just about coming home, it’s about winning at home. “Listen, this is not a perfect business,” Davidson said. “There's always some mistakes to be made, but you do your research, you do your homework, you get together with your group and you try to make as many proper decisions as possible, whether it's through the draft or through the trade. You try to develop. You try to get players, young ones here in the offseason to learn how to train, to give them a better chance because they're getting stronger physically. You get them to understand how to play hockey in New York in the National Hockey League.