NEW YORK, N.Y. – New York Rangers head coach and humane society supporter John Tortorella led the Rangers Dog Walk on Sunday morning to help benefit the Westchester Humane Society.
Hundreds of dog owners, Rangers fans and volunteers participated in the walk at Manhattan’s Riverside Park. The event also gave the crowd a chance to interact with Tortorella and a majority of the Rangers in a more intimate, casual way.
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist, newcomer Rick Nash and former Ranger great Adam Graves were just a handful of the players on hand during the mile-long walk.
Tortorella and his wife have actively supported the humane treatment of dogs through their John & Christine Tortorella Family Foundation. The coach recently paid a visit to the Westchester Humane Society and knew he had to do something to help.
“The first day I went down there and saw the dogs and had the opportunity to walk them, I was hooked,” Tortorella said. “What (the volunteers have) done to change the culture there and what they’re doing for the animals, they’re alive again. Before they came in…the dogs were really struggling.”
The Rangers on hand signed autographs and took pictures with the fans during the walk. Nash, whom the Columbus Blue Jackets traded to the Rangers in July, had the chance to meet his new fans and earn some brownie points with his new coach.
“It’s always fun to be part of the community and help out for causes, especially one like this that means a lot to the coach,” Nash said.
Center Derek Stepan, who has excited Rangers fans with his play in his first two seasons, said he enjoyed interacting with the fans throughout the morning. The 22-year-old, like so many at the event, has plenty of experience with canines.
“I’ve never had like a bigger size dog. My family’s always had a little, tiny dog,” Stepan said. “My girlfriend’s family has an English Setter, which is a bigger set dog, and we’re always all over, hanging out.”
Graves, who was part of the 1994 Stanley Cup team, always had dogs in his home as he grew up in Toronto and said the humane treatment of the animals teaches children how to be responsible. He also praised Tortorella for his advocacy for such treatment.
“Certainly, when you have a gentleman and leader like coach Tortorella, and everything he represents and stands for, he’s a man that cares,” Graves said. “You talk about how he approaches games, how he coaches, the common theme that comes out is that he cares. And this is no different. This is an extension of that.”
Eric Lobel, president of the Westchester Humane Society, said having the backing of the New York Rangers, both past and present, was almost unthinkable only a few months ago.
“We reformed the Westchester Humane Society only a few months ago, so to have someone like coach and his wife (Christine), who have been so helpful to us, to do something like this,” Lobel said. “I mean, we do small things, but to have an event of this scale is unprecedented for a shelter like ours, so it’s really incredible.”
The crowd at Riverside Park continued to grow throughout the morning, and Tortorella hoped that the event would spur more people to get involved.
“This is just the beginning. Just today, it’s bringing awareness to what’s needed, how much help is needed,” Tortorella said. “So we’re in. My family and I are in.”
There were hundreds of people in attendance on Sunday, but there might have been more dogs than humans.
And that's just fine with the Rangers’ coach.
“I’d rather be around dogs than people,” Tortorella quipped. “And we’re going to enjoy that today, that’s for sure.”