30th Anniversary: Potvin Sucks!
In 1979, Potvin and Nilsson were locked into one of the better hockey rivalries as the glamorous urban Rangers were trying to hold off the emerging expansion team from the Long Island boondocks.
Potvin was the hard-hitting young defenseman with the Islanders, and Nilsson was the smooth center for the Rangers, one of those so-called “chicken Swedes” who were too mature and too skillful to be intimidated. Hard hits were part of the game.
“With about 1:20 left in the period, Rangers fans saw a sight to enrage them, when Potvin splattered Nilsson against the boards in the left corner,” Lawrie Mifflin, now an editor at The New York Times, wrote in The Daily News that night.
When Nilsson’s right skate caught in a crevice in the ice, the leg took the full weight of Potvin’s hit.
Throughout the early '80s, the organ at MSG would continue to play the popular arena tune "Let's Go Band." Regardless of the opponent — whether it were the hated Islanders or a non-rival like the Winnipeg Jets — Rangers fans would punctuate the end of the tune with a choir-like refrain of "POTVIN SUCKS!"
In the mid-'80s, Garden management wanted to clean up the Rangers' gameday experience and stopped playing "Let's Go Band." Rangers fans noticed, and started to whistle the tune on their own — punctuating their grassroots version with a "POTVIN SUCKS!" holler at the end.
True blue Rangers fans know to respond to a whistle from the crowd with a hearty "Potvin Sucks", but not all know the origins of the chant. I, myself, knew about the hit on Nilsson which sparked it all but wasn't aware the whistle itself had roots as well.
I love traditions like these. In my hometown, Seattle Thunderbirds fans chant "Portland Sucks" (referring to the archrival Winter Hawks 200 miles south) to the tune of Gary Glitter's arena anthem 'Rock & Roll, Part 2' after every goal, regardless of the opponent. Good times.
Sadly, in recent years, Potvin Sucks has become overused. Instead of the one whistle early in the game from near the press box, it's all night long, particularly if the Islanders are actually in the building - likely a bi-product of the Rangers success over the past few years. It's been fun to go to games again, reviving the popularity of the chant.