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Why New York Rangers Games Are Ground Zero for Celebrity Interaction

Madison Square Garden has always been a hub for the stars, but it’s no longer a Knicks-first venue. For some reason, the hockey games have induced some of the most iconic celeb moments in recent history, from Sophie Turner’s wine chug to Sarah Jessica Parker’s reading to Pete Davidson’s makeout with Kate Beckinsale.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are a few reliable places to spot a celebrity, if that is something you are interested in doing. You can almost always find one heading in or out of Craig’s in West Hollywood. Hang out at the Sugar Factory in New York long enough, and you are bound to find a Kardashian arriving for a paid appearance. And if you are interested in taking photos of Taylor Swift, specifically, you can usually find her outside of her Tribeca mega-apartment, unless she is hiding in a suitcase. (But you can take a photo of that too.) All of these options start to seem a bit passé, though, when you consider the delightfully bizarre celebrity appearances that happen at Rangers games.

Yes, celebrities are watching the Rangers—the hockey team from New York that plays at Madison Square Garden! Some of the most indelible paparazzi moments of this year so far have happened just a few feet from the ice. Remember this one, from March?

Of course you do. Who could forget the moment, captured forever on film, when Pete Davidson, 25, tongue-kissed Kate Beckinsale, 45, as Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski, 34, looked on mournfully? It was the paparazzi photo that launched a thousand memes and ginned up quite a bit of interest in Davidson and Beckinsale’s relationship. The Rangers lost to the Capitals 3-2 that night, but the couple emerged victorious.

“Kate loves the attention — both from a younger guy and the media,” a source told Page Six after the photos went viral. “She hasn’t been in the press this much in years.” Unfortunately, Davidson and Beckinsale broke up two months after the kiss photo was taken, before they got a chance to cheer on the Rangers together again.

But they were not the only celebrities to let loose at a Rangers game this year. Perhaps you also recall the stunning moment when Sophie Turner, of Game of Thrones fame, found herself on the Jumbotron in late March. She grinned, dabbed, and chugged an entire glass of red wine, Juul in hand. (I didn’t even know you could get red wine at a sporting event.) The thrilling video also went viral, and Turner, proud of her work, shared it on Instagram. Drake commented, “Wow inspiration for 2020 and beyond.” (Turner, for what it’s worth, seems to have carried her DGAF attitude with her after the game, as evidenced by her quickie marriage to Joe Jonas in Vegas in May.)

There is something about Rangers games, it seems, that allows celebrities to open up and share their wildest selves. While Knicks games, also at MSG, often provide fun celebrity photo ops—DJ Pauly D meeting Chloë Sevigny; Ethan Hawke switching seats with his son to talk to Rihanna; Karlie Kloss taking a selfie with Josh Kushner—the tenor of the average Rangers game paparazzi pic is much stranger. Perhaps it is because the celebrities are seated slightly farther away from the action than they would be at a basketball game. The lighting, too, is not quite as bright—they may seem more hidden from view, when in actuality they are not. And then there are other atmospheric factors to consider: Hockey games are cold, which means the celebrities tend to dress in a more cozy fashion, which perhaps makes them feel safe. Maybe they are even drinking more (red wine), to keep warm! All of this creates a perfect storm in which celebs seem to feel safe to express themselves. And since hockey is kind of hard to follow (my opinion), celebrities sometimes have to come up with ways to pass the time, like chugging wine, or making out with Pete Davidson.

For example: When Jessica Chastain attended a Rangers-Flyers game at MSG this January, she was photographed wearing funny glasses, cuddling a stuffed elephant, ignoring Jimmy Fallon, and making earnest conversation with Food Network star Anne Burrell. What a delightfully random set of photos that could not be taken anywhere else. (Burrell is incidentally a Rangers superfan and has been photographed at games sitting next to everyone from Olivia Palermo to Cuba Gooding Jr.)

As it did with Sophie Turner, the Jumbotron at Rangers games has seemed to inspire some of the more interesting celebrity behavior at recent games. When Rami Malek appeared onscreen at a Rangers-Capitals game in March, he made this face:

His seatmate, Stranger Things’ David Harbour, one-upped him by running his fingers through his beard:

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stRANGER things happening again @thegarden.

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And all of this was happening while Davidson and Beckinsale were making out—it was the same game! Celebrities are providing more viral content at Rangers games than the Daily Mail can keep up with. Perhaps that’s why Paul Giamatti chose a Rangers-Hurricanes game as the perfect spot to take a new girlfriend on a date in January. (Page Six ran photos of Giamatti’s canoodling with a “mystery brunette” at the game, though it was unable to identify her.) At Rangers games, celebrities feel free to be photographed with unknown paramours, since the tabloids don’t spend too much time looking into them. (The date was never ID’d.)

All of these appearances happened just this past season, making it the best ever year for random celebrity sightings at Rangers games. But to truly understand this trend, we must honor the great celebrity moments of Rangers games past. There are two that stick out in my mind as emblematic of the wacky paparazzi moments we have come to enjoy this season. The first is this: Ansel Elgort’s completely wiping out at the team’s home opener in 2015. It is not clear what, exactly, caused him to fall, but the resulting photos are simply perfect. Note, too, how Us Weekly reported on the scene at the time: “Ansel Elgort Wipes Out at Hockey Game, Falls in Front of Joe Jonas, Gigi Hadid: Photos!”

Yes, Joe Jonas, now the husband of Sophie Turner, was sitting in the row in front of Elgort next to his then-girlfriend, Gigi Hadid. He now has the unique distinction of being present for two viral Rangers game moments that he had nothing much to do with. Elgort never commented on his spectacular fall, but he did post a selfie with Hadid and Jonas on Instagram with the caption “RANGERS HOME OPENER!!!!” so presumably everything turned out fine. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets that night 5-2.

While Elgort’s paparazzi fall is a true classic, there is one other Rangers celebrity moment that you could argue has inspired all subsequent, ridiculous Rangers celebrity moments. And that is Sarah Jessica Parker’s attendance at the Rangers-Kings game in March 2015.

GC Images

Throughout the course of the game, SJP was seated behind Tom Hanks and his son Chet Haze (the rapper). At one point, the Jumbotron caught her chewing gum and giving Hanks the worst look I have ever seen. Later, she was photographed cheering for the Rangers, holding a Rangers jersey but not putting it on, and then, inexplicably, reading a novel. (It was Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead, which came out in 2014. It’s about ballet.)

SJP never explained why she was reading during the game, but she did attempt to clarify the withering look she gave Hanks, as it went viral on Vine. (RIP.) “We were all pretend fighting about them being Kings fans and us being Rangers fans,” she said in a statement to Page Six after the game. “I adore Tom and Rita.”

As far as I’m concerned, there was no need to apologize. Parker’s performance at that 2015 game paved the way for Turner to chug her wine, for Malek to grin on the Jumbotron for way too long, for Davidson and Beckinsale to let the entire world in on an otherwise private moment. Thanks to SJP and the unique atmospheric conditions during hockey season in New York, celebrities are finally free to be themselves.

Hockey season is over now, but the Rangers will begin playing at MSG again in October. I encourage all celebrities—A-list to D-list, old and young, fans of hockey or not—to attend a game, if they get the chance. I think they will have fun, and I look forward to the photos.