Rangers’ Matt Rempe relishing villain role as spotlight grows on rookie’s heavy hits

WASHINGTON – People are angry at Matt Rempe again. Some are fed up with a 21-year-old who is still in the early stages of what he hopes will be a long NHL career.

Not Rangers fans, of course.

They come in droves to defend the young forward and are completely entertained and enamored with the 6’9″ (on skates) hard-hitting giant who says he does his best to walk the line between an efficient, intimidating bruiser and someone ‘one who doesn’t take stupid penalties that could hurt a Stanley Cup contender and is one win away from making the playoffs.

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette is pleased with his growth and efficiency.

“He did it on the ice with his play. He did it with his physique. He did it by fighting when he had to,” Laviolette said Saturday. “We’re just trying to manage him and make sure he understands that he’s important when he’s on the ice.”

Two or three weeks ago, Rempe probably would have enjoyed battling Tom Wilson in the second period in Friday’s 3-1 win over the Capitals. Wilson wanted a piece of Rempe for his late, high miss, in the Caps’ view, that knocked out defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk from the final 48 minutes of Game 3 and, at least, all of Game 4.

But with the Rangers leading 2-0 in the series at that point and only one goal in the second period, Rempe was not about to answer for his first-period control that injured van Riemsdyk and allowed Wilson to trigger a packed house. Capital One Arena, potentially providing a spark to a Capitals team that’s desperate for one right now.

“It’s a learning process for me because now I’m trying to pick my positions: the time of the game, the momentum, are we in place, what does the series look like, is it necessary there , or that sort of thing,” Rempe said after the Rangers’ very optional practice on Saturday. “Obviously sometimes it’s hard to say no, if that makes sense. But it’s like, hey, I’m learning. This is also part of the job. I have to choose my seats. Our job as a team is to win, and I have to make sure I always do the right thing for the team.

The Caps are obviously not happy with Rempe’s first-period check that resulted in minor interference, but no further discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

The league looked at two criteria for a possible suspension: the first being a head check and the second being interference.

Regarding the head check, the league ruled that Rempe’s hit was a full-body check with unavoidable contact with the head. Regarding the interference, the league determined that the check occurred within the permitted window of time in which a player can complete the check after the puck has departed. The league doesn’t announce this time, but according to someone who has followed the Department of Player Safety at least a half-dozen times over the years, anything less than 0, 6 seconds is not considered late in terms of suspension.

“I’m tired of losing defensemen to, quote, hits, that’s for sure,” veteran John Carlson said. “It’s frustrating how guys can get hurt, and it’s ‘legal’.”

Rempe, who was suspended four games last month for a head hit, didn’t feel the hit even merited a penalty. He said the referees told him it was a hair too late, hence the minor interference.

On Saturday, Rempe dissected the blow.

“I’m getting into the forecheck,” he said. “I come in there, and my job is to finish shots there and be tough on the forecheck. I thought it was a free kick. It was a fast game. I just passed through the body. Obviously you never want anyone to get hurt, and it’s terrible that he’s hurt and I’m sorry to hear that. But I think it was a clear success. I was just trying to play hard, move my feet and be physical.

Caps fans don’t see it that way, and the Caps certainly don’t see it. They are already decimated on the blue line with Nick Jensen and Rasmus Sandin injured and only one other defenseman – Chase Priskie – under contract in the entire organization. As of Saturday night at least, he wasn’t called up, which could be a sign that Jensen or Sandin will find a way to play in Game 4.

Rempe stayed away from social media after Friday’s game, instead returning to the team hotel in Georgetown and getting his butt kicked by Chris Kreider during several games of “Halo” in the players’ lounge .

But he doesn’t care one iota about the latest hate he receives from non-Rangers hockey fans or the harsh criticism he receives from hockey columnists.


Lazerus: Another dangerous hit from Matt Rempe, another chance for the NHL to look away

“I feel like I’m playing my game,” Rempe said. “If it’s about more attention, I don’t have a problem with it if there’s good media or bad media, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what anyone else has to say if it’s bad or anything, it is what it is. I’m just trying to go and play my game. If I’m efficient and I’m making big hits and free throws and hard hits, then people, other teams won’t like that. But I have to make sure it’s clean.

Rempe said he’s spent a lot of time studying his hits on video, especially since he was suspended for elbowing Devils defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler on March 11.

“I’m still trying to see because the most important thing for me is that I have to keep everything compact,” Rempe said. “That’s what I always look for: no elbows, I guess, that’s one thing I have to make sure of. I’m so big that once I commit to a shot, I have to make sure everything is in order and if the guys get out of the way, I have to make sure, hey, I can’t stick anything . presented as something reactionary. I must just miss it. I must just miss it. I have to get out of this.

“So when I look at that hit (against van Riemsdyk), it’s like I went through the body. I thought everything was hidden. Everything was clean, compact. I went through the body. Just a big success. I just caught it cleanly.

But Rempe says it’s perfectly fine to be seen as a villain by fan bases and opposing teams.

Rangers captain Jacob Trouba, a hard hitter who often walks that fine line between clean and dirty, is no stranger to the role.

“I’m sure the teams don’t like him. I probably wouldn’t like him either if I played against him,” Trouba said. “I think the energy that he brought not only to the team – to the buildings, to MSG, to the fan base – is part of the story, but he’s just a great kid having fun playing at hockey. That’s what you see in the locker room, the smiles.

“I guess you see it a little bit in interviews. Just his attitude, how grateful he is to be in this position and playing hockey, his story, everything that makes who he is, I think we have a lot of respect for him in our room. He’s been a big part of our team, a big part of the momentum, a big part of the attitude and energy around Rangers recently. It’s a lot for someone like him to carry, but I think he did a great job. He plays hard. He’s a guy I’ll take on my team any day of the week. I think you’ll hear every guy in the room say that.

Rempe knows he will be a focal point again in Game 4 on Sunday night. But he says his only goal is to play hard, play clean and not hurt his team’s chances of winning.

Laviolette is completely comfortable with him and believes Rempe will once again play an important role in Rangers’ victory.

“There are a lot of conversations with Matt,” Laviolette said. “He’s a great young player, a great young player early in his career. Just by constantly talking to him and staying with him, communicating with him, I think it can continue to grow.

“If you’ve watched him from when he got here to when he’s playing now, even when he’s training now, it’s completely different. He elevates his game on the ice and so we need him on the ice also for his game, for his size, for his physique, for his speed.

“He brings a lot to the table, so we need to make sure he’s on the ice.”

(Top photo of TJ Oshie colliding with Matt Rempe in Game 3: Tom Brenner/AP Photo)

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