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Rangers must prioritize kids amid hazy Tony DeAngelo aftermath
It is perhaps the height of irony that the one time Tony DeAngelo might indeed be a victim, he outright refuses to advance that narrative. No sir.
Coming up on two weeks since being expelled from the Rangers in the wake of the Jan. 30 postgame physical altercation with Alexandar Georgiev, which the defenseman provoked with a verbal insult, being waived through the league and learning that he is at least temporarily persona non grata across the NHL, DeAngelo will not wallow.
“I’m obviously disappointed about the way things ended in New York and how things have unfolded, but I’m not going to sit here and play the victim card at all,” DeAngelo told The Post in an exclusive interview by phone on Friday that represented his first public remarks since that fateful night.
“Hockey-wise, there are mistakes that I have made. I’ve gotten hot-headed at times. I’m the first one to admit that and I take responsibility for it. I’ve tried to learn and get better and better at it, but there are still times where things have happened and emotionally I’ve gone over the line a little bit, and I accept responsibility for that. The thing with Alex, exactly like he said, emotions got away.
“I wish things had happened differently, but like I said before, I’m not in any way playing the victim card.”
But let’s be serious here. DeAngelo is not out of the NHL because of the tussle with Georgiev. Those things happen in pro sports. Claude Lemieux and Scott Stevens went at it bare-fisted in the Devils’ room the year preceding the first of New Jersey’s three Stanley Cups, and Lou Lamoriello didn’t waive either of them.
Fights, verbal outbursts, those can be overcome. But you know what cannot be overcome? The perception that a player is racist. The perception that a player — the same player — is a political extremist, an insurrectionist and a COVID-denier carries dreadful enough tones, but there is nothing uglier in life than to be labeled racist.
That is the tag that has been applied to DeAngelo in the wake of a blogger for a fan website claiming to have sources that inextricably tied the defenseman’s dismissal to issues with K’Andre Miller, the Blueshirts’ emerging 20-year-old African-American defenseman. Supposedly, DeAngelo purloined the puck following the rookie’s first NHL goal and withheld it from the team for an undetermined amount of time. But that was only part of it. Allegedly, there had been other incidents that had alarmed teammates and upper management.
It fit the narrative, didn’t it? Or maybe it served the narrative that there was something intrinsically rotten in the MAGA supporter who seven years earlier as an 18-year-old had been suspended by both the Ontario Hockey League and his Sarnia team for violating the league’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy. Not that it makes this any less heinous in nature, but The Post has learned that the slur he directed at a Caucasian teammate was ethnic in nature, not related to race.
“I accepted responsibility for it then, I still accept responsibility for it now. I learned from it. I make a mistake with something I said,” DeAngelo said. “I explained myself many times to any NHL team I met with [leading up to the 2015 entry draft], the people in the OHL I met with back then, I apologized to my teammate who I was still friends with following the incident.
“It was mistake. There was no excuse for it. I wish it had never happened. But it will never happen again.”
Here’s the thing. The whole Miller plot line fits too conveniently into the narrative. It appears to have been made out of whole cloth. There is no one to corroborate the charges. DeAngelo appears to be a victim of a smear campaign even as he notably won’t claim that he is one.
“K’Andre Miller was never part of any part of the Tony DeAngelo story at all,” Ian Pulver, Miller’s agent, told The Post on Friday. “There were no issues between them of any kind. There is no reason he should be part of this.
“As far as the first-goal puck being an issue, K’Andre never even knew it to be an issue. It was always his understanding that the puck was with the training staff. It’s not right that he has become part of this story.”
Marc Staal is as well respected around the league as it gets. He was DeAngelo’s on-ice partner most of the past two seasons before the veteran was sent to Detroit this offseason. The pair developed a bond off the ice, as well.
“There has never been any indication at all that Tony has racist tendencies,” No. 18 told The Post. “I hear these things about him, and it’s as if they’re talking about a different person. The guys here in Detroit, they’re all super-curious about him.
“I feel bad for him, to be honest. Whether it’s the junior stuff that warps into this, I don’t know. He’s a lightning rod, and yeah, he yells at coaches and referees and he has these moments where he goes overboard, but he’s a good teammate.
“Racist? I’m telling you, some of this stuff is just insane.”
There is that charge on top of the aggressive, often confrontational tone DeAngelo assumed on Twitter in support of former President Trump and his re-election bid. His social media profile became his de facto reputation. There’d been dialogue for years between management and DeAngelo about the need for him to lower his profile, but he apparently could not resist. His words are being used against him even if some have been inaccurately put in his mouth.
“I’m definitely misportrayed in my opinion,” DeAngelo said, before uttering a sentence unprecedented in my nearly four decades of covering the NHL. “I’m not a racist, I’m not an extremist and I’m not an insurrectionist.
“That stuff is completely false. That’s nothing that I stand for and I don’t think anyone stands for. People have different opinions and I respect everyone’s opinion. I never attack anyone for their opinion. I have mine that obviously I shared, but I never thought that I crossed the line with anything.
“I understand people not liking it, the way things went, but I’m definitely not an extremist, that I can tell you. I thought I gave my opinion, I respect other people’s opinions, and that’s all I thought I was doing,” he said. “There a lot of nasty stuff on social media, and sometimes it frustrates you. I know I shouldn’t respond to people who said things I thought were over the line, but I did, and it was stupid, but I won’t be doing that anymore.
“The post about COVID, it was taken out of context,” DeAngelo said. “I shouldn’t have tweeted it, obviously, but I was commenting more about how the media was covering it following the election, the parades after the election that President Biden won, there were no more worries about masks and social distancing in the street compared to the way the Trump rallies were portrayed.
“That was my point, not that the virus wasn’t real. There have been family members and friends that have had it. I respect the seriousness nature of it, I have followed all the health and safety protocols. I didn’t explain it well on that tweet, but it’s important for me to do that now. I’m not a COVID-denier.”
“I’m not a racist, I’m not an extremist and I’m not an insurrectionist.”
Away from the Rangers, away from the NHL, DeAngelo is beloved in the South Jersey youth hockey community in which he coaches, runs clinics that he insists feature diversity, and is generally always there for kids.
“The depiction of him does not resemble the person I know,” said Jason Fray, a dad who has two sons who have benefitted from their minor hockey association with DeAngelo. “He is one of the kindest, most giving people I know.
“He spends hours and hours at the rink, with the kids. He’s generous with his words, his approach. He’s just so well liked by the kids, by the parents. My wife is heartbroken over this.”
And this from another hockey dad, Jim Reilly: “He talks to these kids about mistakes he’s made and how you learn from them. He gives them lessons, off the ice, too. He gives away his skates and gloves. The guy I read about and the guy I know are not the same guy.”
There is a narrative, too, that DeAngelo’s political beliefs were divisive in the room. There is another one that he is being persecuted for them.
“I don’t believe that,” he said.
Staal doesn’t believe it, either.
“The last few years especially, since Trump, there’s been a lot of back-and-forth from both sides in conversations within the room,” No. 18 said. “But guys never got offended. Tony doesn’t back down, that’s just who he is, but politics never became an issue on our team.”
DeAngelo has been an active supporter and fundraiser for Wounded Warriors. He also has contributed to other charitable efforts on behalf of COVID response and hunger relief.
“I’ve always wanted to do something with the military,” he said of Wounded Warriors. “I’m going on the third or fourth summer in a row working with them. That’s my big passion, charity-wise. I love the military, I respect military members and anything I can do for them, especially for wounded warriors, I’m there.
“And kids. I love working with kids. I like people, and I get along with a lot of people. I like getting involved in causes and helping out where I can.”
DeAngelo is 25 and has been out of the game for two weeks. He could be on the outside for another two months. He could be on the outside for much longer than that if team owners and upper management people believe that a fan backlash prompted by his acquisition would outweigh the positive effects of having him on the ice. Again, he is not out for hockey reasons or cap reasons. It’s because of his reputation — some of which he has earned, some of which seems to have been fabricated.
“I want the chance to show people who I really am,” said DeAngelo, who is skating with a U18 team in South Jersey. “I’m very determined to get back and not prove people wrong, per se, but prove to teams that will chance on me that they are right.
“I want to show that I’m not what people say I am and that if a team is willing to take a chance with me, that I will help their team, be good in the community and be there for a long time. I think I can help a lot of teams. I am hopeful and I am staying positive.
“I’m just a guy who wants to play hockey.”
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