Anthony Greco pulled on a red, white and blue jersey Thursday night at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., and skated in his first game with the Rangers, the team he grew up rooting for after inheriting his fandom from his parents, Paul and Mary Jane.
His mom watched the game with his aunt from her home in Massapequa Park on Long Island.
His dad, everybody says, no doubt watched from above.
Paul Greco, a FDNY firefighter of more than 20 years, died in May 2020 after a battle with several illnesses resulting from breathing toxic air at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was 54.
To watch her son fulfill his childhood dream after enduring such hardship, Mary Jane was overwhelmed. But she never expected to feel her late husband’s presence as much as she did.
After the first 20 minutes of the Rangers’ eventual shutout win over the Sharks, Greco had logged exactly 3:43 of ice time. There were 343 firefighters killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We know he was watching,” Mary Jane told The Post in a phone interview on Friday. “Along with a lot of other guys up there cheering for him.”
Around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Mary Jane received a text from her son saying he was going to make his Rangers debut that night. The Rangers are in the midst of their first significant coronavirus outbreak, which has sidelined several forwards to COVID-19 protocol in recent days.
Last week, Greco was recalled from AHL Hartford to join the Rangers’ taxi squad. He then was promoted to the active roster two days later amid more positive tests, but was scratched in the Rangers’ loss at the Kings on Monday.
When news hit Thursday that Alexis Lafreniere had entered COVID-19 protocol, Greco drew into the lineup for the first time since he signed with the Rangers as a free agent in October 2020. He slotted in on the right wing of the third line, beating out his fellow Wolf Pack teammates, who made up the fourth unit.
Greco became the first Queens native to ever play for the Rangers, who signed him after he had bounced from the Panthers to the Lightning to the Sharks, primarily playing for each club’s minor league affiliate. The winger made his NHL debut with the Panthers during the 2018-19 season, but he hadn’t gotten into an NHL game since then.
It was poetic for Greco to earn his next NHL opportunity with the Rangers, the team he used to watch with his dad growing up.
“That’s all he wore was Rangers jerseys, when he was little and he first started skating,” Mary Jane recalled. “He absolutely did [inherit the fandom]. There was not a choice in the matter.”
The Rangers must have had Greco on their radar shortly after the 2019-20 season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, since Paul knew his son was going to sign with the team before he died. Mary Jane, who stopped working as a labor and delivery nurse at Winthrop University to care for Paul, said her husband was “over the moon” about their son becoming a Ranger.
Paul was naturally invested in his son’s hockey career. After years of driving him to games and practices, Paul moved his family to Minnesota so Anthony could attend Shattuck St. Mary’s — a boarding high school that proclaims itself the “Hockey Center of Excellence.”
Paul was still working as a firefighter in New York, but that didn’t stop him from being there for both of his families.
“He’d be like, ‘All right bro, I’m leaving Minnesota now, I’ll be there in 24 hours,’ ” said Pete Maslinski, a now-retired firefighter who worked alongside Paul at FDNY’s Squad 270. “To come to work! And I’m like, ‘What, are you out of your mind?’ He would call himself an asphalt cowboy, listen to country music, and he loved it.”
The Maslinski family used to travel with the Grecos to watch Anthony play earlier in his career. They’d fly out to games at Ohio State, where Anthony competed for four NCAA seasons, as well as to other colleges for games. Watching his NHL debut was one thing, but to see Anthony take the ice in a Rangers sweater was surreal, Maslinski said.
“We’d go anywhere we could with this kid,” he added. “We’ve followed him forever. I told everybody, I said it at my eulogy for Paul, I emulated him being a dad. That’s how I tried to raise my kids. He just was the greatest dad I’d ever seen.”
In the grand scheme of things, Greco may be further down on the Rangers depth chart than he would like to be. Players will eventually come out of COVID-19 protocol, and Greco likely will be sent back to Hartford. And because the two-year contract he signed with the Rangers is set to expire at the end of this season, what’s next for the 28-year-old is unknown.
But he’ll always have Jan. 13, 2022, the night he got to play for the Rangers in front of thousands — and one very special man a little higher up.
“Some of my favorite memories are going to game with him growing up,” Greco said on the MSG broadcast. “It’s a tough situation, but I’m sure he’s happy and watching.”