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Hartnett: Ryan Callahan Is 'The Derek Jeter' Of The Rangers

'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Imagine if Derek Jeter picked up a hockey stick instead of a baseball glove while growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Take away Jeter's multi-million dollar endorsements, car commercials, celebrity girlfriends, add a hockey stick and what do you have? Ryan Callahan.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, you'd also have to take away championship rings but mark my words, Callahan and his teammates will make New York a hockey town once again.

Remember, the Rangers owned New York when Jeter made his major league debut and transformed the Yankees from a identity-less franchise pining for any resemblance to its glorious past to the toast of the town.

Callahan is not Mark Messier. Messier etched his name in hockey lore long before he pulled on a Rangers jersey as he was an integral part of the Edmonton Oilers' 1980's dynasty.

Messier was a genuine legend before he arrived in New York. If I were to compare Messier to a Yankee hero, it would probably be Reggie Jackson.  Winning in New York catapulted their stardom to a larger audience.

Callahan is not the most talented player on the ice in the way that Jeter often isn't the most skilled player on the baseball diamond.  They're both great players no doubt, but their value to their respective teams stretches far beyond statistics.

When anyone talks about Jeter, usually the first word that springs to mind is intangibles.  Derek Jeter doesn't need to shout to get teammates to follow his lead.  Sames goes for Callahan who wears the Rangers' captain's badge but doesn't need a letter on his sweater to lead by example.

His example forces teammates to play with a reckless abandon, throw their bodies in front of pucks, dive to block one-timers and pay the physical toll needed to win games.

Callahan blocked eight shots last night on his birthday of all nights.  Had he taken off his shirt in front of the media, his body would be covered in bruises from willingly taking pucks in unguarded areas.

If Jeter were to lace up a pair of skates, I'd imagine he would play the game of hockey in a similar style to Callahan.  Jeter's dive into the stands against the Red Sox in 2004 has been replayed ad nauseaum on the YES Network.  If baseball were a bit more like hockey, Jeter would be the bloodiest player on the field after every game.

Last night with 10:40 remaining in the third period, Callahan alertly hustled back on defense to dive and break up a two-on-one shorthanded breakway.  It appeared that the Red Wings were going to score but out of nowhere, Callahan raced back and broke up the play.

Like Jeter, Callahan has an uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time more often than most players.  He seems to pop up at the crucial moment again and again.

Last night's overtime winner was just another example of Callahan's burning desire to win.

Ryan Callahan Overtime Game Winning Goal Against Detroit 3/21/12 by JoshJimmyJayJohnson on YouTube

"He just had an unbelievable third period and overtime.  He does so much for the hockey club.  It's fitting that he gets the winning goal," Rangers head coach John Tortorella told reporters post-game.

Callahan is the heartbeat of the Rangers.  No disrespect to Henrik Lundqvist or any of his Ranger teammates but without Callahan, the Rangers simply do not click. When Callahan broke his ankle on the eve of last year's playoffs, the Rangers were 'dead in the water.'

Had he been healthy, who knows how far the Rangers could have gone in the 2011 playoffs.  As the 2012 playoffs near, this could be Callahan's time to shine on the national stage and lift the Rangers to the next level.

Can Callahan take the Rangers to the next level during the playoffs?  Is he as valuable to the Rangers as Jeter is to the Yankees?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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