hockey players in hospital beds: on the rangers ward

It was on a Monday of this same date in 1979 that New York Ranger teammates John Davidson and Ulf Nilsson woke up as roommates at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. Goaltender Davidson was already in residence, having  pulled a hamstring and aggravated a nerve in his back in a game against St. Louis five days earlier. Nilsson, New York’s leading scorer, joined him Sunday night after fracturing his right ankle as a result of running into Islanders’ defenceman Denis Potvin. (That’s nurse Denise Boschen taking a check of Nilsson’s blood pressure.)

Already lacking defenceman Ron Greschner (separated shoulder), the Rangers still managed to make it to the Stanley Cup final that May. Davidson and Greschner were sufficiently repaired for the playoff run, and Nilsson made it back for the first game of the final against the Montreal Canadiens. He only lasted two games before the ankle gave out again, and so he missed the denouement, which saw Montreal sweep the next three games to take a fourth Cup in a row.

the goose that laid 50 eggs

Towering Tiny: An artist’s rendition of Boston’s mighty Tiny Thompson from 1930.

Score it 0-0: the game that particular February 24 on a Sunday night in 1935 ended up without a puck getting by either goaltender through three regular periods and a ten-minute overtime. New York’s Madison Square Garden was the scene, with 26-year-old Dave Kerr tending the nets for the hometown Rangers against Tiny Thompson and the Boston Bruins in front of a crowd of 16,000 or so. The ice, by one account, was wretched.

“For Rangers,” the Boston Globe disclosed the next day, “Kerr was the whole works.” He stopped 43 pucks, recording the 15th shutout of his five-year career. His closest call? Harold Parrott from Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle said it came on a “rifle shot” from Boston’s Babe Siebert, “which nearly tore the goaler’s little finger off and hit the goal post with that dull ping which signifies failure.” Thompson deterred 39 New York shots — or maybe 34. The NHL didn’t keep official counts in those early years, and the Globe and the New York Times begged to differ in their accounting of Thompson’s work. To the latter’s eye, his hardest test came in the second period on a “ripping long shot” from New York’s Murray Murdoch.

For Thompson, who was 31 and playing in his eighth NHL season, the night marked a milestone of distinguished denial: this was the 50th regular-season shutout of his career. He was the seventh goaltender in league history to make it to that mark, following in the venerable skates of (not in order) George Hainsworth, Clint Benedict, Roy Worters, Lorne Chabot, Alec Connell, and John Ross Roach.

 

rinkside with lynn patrick

Date Night: Dorothea Davis and fiancé Lynn Patrick at Madison Square Garden in January of 1939.

Born in Victoria, B.C. on a Saturday of this date in 1912, Lynn Patrick was Lester’s son, Frank’s nephew, older brother of Muzz. A centreman, he was signed by his dad, GM of the Rangers, in 1934, and played the left wing for New York for a decade. Muzz joined the team in 1938, and together they helped the Rangers take the 1940 Stanley Cup. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980, Lynn had his best offensive year in 1942-43 when he scored 22 goals and 61 points. He later coached the Rangers and Bruins, and was the first coach in St. Louis Blues’ history, (He also served as GM in Boston.)

Lynn hurt his knee in December of 1938 and didn’t make it back to the Ranger line-up until late in January, when he returned to help his team beat the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden in front of 11,113 spectators on a Sunday night, scoring a goal in a 7-3 win. Two nights later, Patrick was back at the Garden in a crowd of 8,000 to watch the New York Americans dispatch the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-1. That’s the story here, above: Patrick and his fiancée, Dorothea Davis, had seats by the boards.

She was from Winnipeg, 18 that year; Patrick was 26. In April of that same year, a week after the Rangers were bumped from the playoffs by Boston’s Bruins, the couple served as bridesmaid and best man, respectively, when Lynn’s linemate Phil Watson married Helen Edison in New York.

“A model who scorned a movie contract for matrimony” is how the Canadian Press described Miss Davis on that occasion. She and Lynn exchanged their vows within the week, at New York’s Marble Collegiate Church, by the pastor who presided there and noted positive-thinker, the Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Shadow dance: Lynn Patrick throws a mighty shadow as he nears his own net at Maple Leaf Gardens circa 1940. In a pile in front of the Ranger net that’s (probably) New York goaltender Dave Kerr along with (#16) Ranger Alf Pike and Toronto’s Nick Metz (#15).

 

 

around the big apple with phil watson

The New York Rangers were in Montreal as January ran out of calendar in 1948: they beat the hometown Canadiens 4-2 that Saturday night. Veteran (and famously combustible) Ranger right winger Phil Watson contributed a goal to the effort, foiling Bill Durnan, and was boxed as well (Watson was) twice for sins of interference. Watson, who died on a Friday of this date in 1991, was 33 that winter, playing out the last of his boisterous 13 NHL seasons. He went on to coach the Rangers, Boston, too, as well as, for a couple of WHA seasons in the 1970s, Philadelphia and Vancouver.

The Rangers were home next day in ’48, a whole other February 1, which is when this photograph was taken, Watson on the left, Rangers centre Neil Colville by his side. After their game, I guess? They met Chicago that night at Madison Square Garden, tying the Black Hawks 2-2. Again Watson scored, beating Hawk goaltender Emile Francis on a set-up by Buddy O’Connor, who maintained his lead in NHL scoring that night.

The Rangers followed that up, midweek, with another tie, 4-4 this time, in Detroit. Watson didn’t score, but he did take a swing at a Red Wings fan by the name of Claude Hughes who’d been jeering him as he rested between shifts.

“The patron,” the Windsor Star reported, “was moved to another seat, away from the Ranger bench.”

leapin’ lou

Manhattan Mauler: Born in Guelph, Ontario, on a Wednesday of this date in 1932, Lou Fontinato was renowned for … well, if you know anything about his nine seasons in the NHL, mostly with the Rangers, finally with Canadiens, you know that he excelled at goading, inciting, shedding his gloves, punching, being punched. “If there were a prize for refrigerated misbehavior,” Arthur Daley wrote in The New York Times in 1956, “it’s a cinch that Louie the Leaper would win it.” Fans loved him, and it was often reported, too, what a great guy he was, despite the violence he perpetrated. “A sweetheart — away from the rink,” Stan Fischler once advised. Lou Fontinato died in 2016 at the age of 84. (Image: Tex Coulter, 1958)

moose messiah

Mess Call: Born in St. Albert, Alberta, on a Wednesday of this date in 1961, Mark Messier is 60 today. Has the NHL seen a better leader? He won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and another with the New York Rangers. The image here dates to 1985, when Messier turned 24. Later that spring, the Oilers beat the Philadelphia Flyers in five games to take their second Cup.

john muckler, 1934—2021

 

A sad advisory from the Edmonton Oilers, confirming the news that former coach John Muckler died on Monday night at the age of 86. A native of Midland, Ontario, Muckler cut his head-coaching teeth in 1968-69 with the Minnesota North Stars. He joined the Oilers as an assistant on Glen Sather’s bench in 1981 and played his part in five Stanley Cup championships in Edmonton, the last one, in 1990, as head coach. Above, he’s pictured in 1984-85; the team group below finds him between Father and goaltender Andy Moog in 1983. He subsequently spent four years coaching and managing the Buffalo Sabres and another three seasons on the New York Rangers’ bench. Muckler was GM of the Ottawa Senators from 2001 through to the summer of 2007.

Embed from Getty Images

ranger royalty

Lester We Forget: In his playing days, he was a legendary point and rover  — and also an occasional goalkeep. A league-builder, a rink-raiser, a rule-maker, a master of the game and also ever a student, Lester Patrick was, in short, an all-around hockey powerhouse. Born on a Monday of this date in 188 3 in Drummondville, Quebec, he forged the New York Rangers into their NHL selves after succeeding Conn Smythe at the expansion team’s helm in 1926, guiding them to Stanley Cup championships in 1928, 1933, and 1940. That’s Ranger centre Neil Colville by his side here, in 1941. when Patrick was 58. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947, Lester Patrick died at the age of 76 in 1960.

on the blueshirt blueline, and bench

Broadwayer: Born in Montreal on a Friday of this date in 1924, Hall-of-Famer Doug Harvey won five Stanley Cups as the anchor of the Montreal Canadiens defence. Seven times he was named winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman. The last of those Norrises came when he was 36 in 1962, by which time Montreal had offloaded him to the New York Rangers, where he took up as the team’s playing coach. This week in 1961, coincidentally, Harvey rated tenth in voting for the U.S. Athlete of the Year. Milwaukee Braves’ pitcher Warren Spahn topped the Associated Press poll, with Harvey coming in behind a cluster of boxers, quarterbacks, jockeys, and golfers. (Image: Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada)

ching johnson and his highly educated hip

“With his balding head gleaming under the lights,” Deane McGowen wrote in a New York Times obituary in 1979, “the 6-foot, 210-pound Mr. Johnson would carry the puck down the rink like a runaway locomotive at full speed. There were few opponents who dared to impede his progress.”

Nobody called him Mr. Johnson: though first and officially labeled Ivan Wilfred, he was nicknamed early on and certainly as an NHL defenceman was only ever really known as ChingJohnson. Today’s his birthday: he born in Winnipeg on Tuesday, December 7, 1897.

Johnson served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War, as a driver for the 3rd Division’s ammunition column. The record of his military service testify that he acquired both a social disease and a Good Conduct Badge in France before he was demobilized in 1919.

He played some hockey in Belgium before he came home, after the Armistice, he was among a group of Canadian soldiers who “satisfied their hankering for the blades and sticks with games on a pond in front of a chateau outside Brussels.”

That’s according to Damon Runyon, the writer, of Guys and Dolls repute, who was also a hockey fan and sometime (what else could he be?) Runyonesque hockey columnist in the late 1920s

Johnson had signed on with the New York Rangers by then — was, in fact, one of the long-serving original Rangers, along with Frank Boucher, Bun and Bill Cook, and Murray Murdoch, whose numbers the team has somehow failed to retire. (Johnson’s was 3.)

He played 11 seasons in all with the Rangers, plus an extra one at the end of his career with the Americans across town. The Rangers won two Stanley Cups during Johnson’s tenure. He was named to the NHL’s First All-Star Team twice, in 1932 and ’33. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

Here’s Runyon’s perspective on Ching Johnson and his predilection for bodychecks from a 1927 column:

Weighing 211 pounds, splendidly distributed in bone, muscle, and skin of healthy glow, he believes firmly in the efficacy of a hip movement that combines the dexterity of Gilda Gray’s shimmy and the potency of a battering ram. In a game against the Chicago Black Hawks, he floored five men — all but the goalie, who cannot be charged on without fracturing a rule — through the medium of his highly educated hip and sheer driving power.

mixed-up confusion

The Detroit Red Wings were up on top of the American Division in the first week of January in 1936, ahead of the Rangers by a point when they went to New York to play. A crowd of more than 10,000 was on hand to watch. Despite the Red Wings’ tendency to defend, the clash was exciting enough. That’s what Joseph C. Nichols wrote in The New York Timesclashexcitingenough. He said that Ching Johnson, who hailed from Winnipeg, was sterlingon defence for the Rangers, and in attack, too, and came within an ace of tying it. But that was late in the third period.

First, earlier, Pete Kelly, a son of St. Vital, Manitoba, scored for Detroit. The Blueshirts were pressing — charged without stint. Frank Boucher, from Kemptville, Ontario, was in on this, with Cook brothers on the wings, Bun and Bill, from Kingston. They couldn’t break down Detroit’s Normie Smith (Toronto): he wouldn’t break. Herb Lewis (Calgary) added a second goal for the Red Wings with Johnson on the penalty bench for hooking.

This was the second period now. Then came the sequence we’re seeing here: Ranger left winger Butch Keeling dashed in across the Detroit line. He was from Owen Sound, Ontario; that’s him, above, with the part in his hair and the stripy-taped stick. Pete Kelly is with him. This whole sequence lasted just a few seconds. Mix-up is the word in the original caption describing what happened: Kelly barged Keeling into the net, Normie Smith, in his cap, got the puck. I’m pretty sure that’s a young Bucko McDonald from Fergus, Ontario, in the last frame, with the helmet. Kelly went off for holding. Nichols:

The Rangers moved all their skaters forward. After several futile thrusts had been directed at the net, Johnson took Brydson’s pass and scored in 11.29.

Glen Brydson that would be, from Swansea, Ontario. 2-1. In the third, the Red Wings iced the puck when they could, which worked. The Rangers had some chances: Johnson by the post; Keeling on a long drive; a couple of hard raps from Bill Cook. That’s all, though.

Butch Keeling died on a Monday of this date in 1984. He was 79. Melvillewas the name he was given, but he was a butcher’s son in Owen Sound, and so he got his nickname early on. After making his NHL debut in 1926-27, the year the Toronto St. Patricks transformed into the Maple Leafs, he played ten seasons for the Rangers, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 1933.

owning up: don delillo comes clean

Cover Story: The cover of the 1982 British mass market edition of DeLillo’s hockey classic.

It’s a stretch of years now since Keith Gessen, a writer I’ll gladly follow into any paragraph he chooses to lead me, wrote his New York Times Book Reviewessay on hockey’s literature and its lacks, and I’m trying to remember whether, in 2006, I embraced his premise that when it comes to hockey books, two tower above all the rest —No question about Ken Dryden’s 1983 classic The Game— but what about Amazons (1980), the Cleo Birdwell novel that Gessen declared “the other monument of hockey literature thus far”?

You can read the Gessen here. I don’t think that I quite agreed with him on Amazons then, and still don’t, though the novel does tell a feisty, funny, bawdy, insightful story about the first woman to play in the NHL.

You’d expect that, the funny and the insight, of course, given that Birdwell was a masquerade and that the actual author was in fact Don DeLillo. It’s no secret that the man who gave us Libra and White Noise and Underworld has never openly acknowledged that he actually wrote Amazons, nor that he’s reportedly been adamant in his refusal to allow the novel to be reprinted: the mystery, if there is any, is in why he’s been so silent all this time in his spurning of his hockey romp.

No more. DeLillo, who turns 84 this month, has a new novel out, The Silence. Last month, in a New York Times Magazine interview with David Marchese, DeLillo finally came clean. I don’t know why this wasn’t bigger news, though I guess we did have our distractions in October. Anyway, the exchange came halfway through Marchese’s and DeLillo’s back-and-forth. The latter had already dangled a lure, earlier, mentioning Amazons in passing. DeLillo, it’s noted, laughed, but didn’t bite.

A little later, Marchese changed bait, bringing up a prominent DeLillo character. Here’s the exchange:

You know who else shows up in two of your books? Murray Jay Siskind. Both times described as having an “Amish” beard. Murray Jay! Remind me, what book is he in?

White Noise. And where else?

Amazons. Oh god. How do you remember that. Idon’t remember that.

I think I just got a scoop. I don’t know if you’ve ever publicly acknowledged that you wrote Amazons. I probably did, somewhere or other. [Laughs.] Maybe to an interviewer from Thailand.

And there it is. Boom.

I e-mailed David Marchese to congratulate him on his catch. I was also, I guess, hoping for an outtake or two, the rest of the conversation that he’d had to edit out, wherein DeLillo unpacked just how he’d come to write the book, and what he felt about the late-70s Rangers.

Alas.

What was there in the Times was all there was on Amazons, Marchese told me. “He just sort of laughed and changed the subject,” he wrote. “I didn’t really follow up on it because it seemed a little bit too much inside baseball (to mix metaphors) for the general reader.”

The novelist previously known as Cleo Birdwell

Ah, well. DeLillo’s admission doesn’t really change anything. Whether he wants to talk about it or not, the book’s prose is his, along with its vision, and that’s worth paying attention to. For all the hockey in Amazons (not to mention all the sex), the novel’s particular subject is, as Keith Gessen points out, America, “the dark schizy heart of it.” It’s a book, he writes, that’s “not about hockey in just the right way.”

At one point, Cleo, who at 23 has just made the Rangers, is talking to the blusterous Kinross, president of Madison Square Garden, who hates hockey, doesn’t understand why he should bother to host it in his building.

“It’s a fuggin shit-ass game,” he tells her, “for my money. You don’t have a black or Hispanic element. It doesn’t reflect the urban reality. Who wants to see two white guys hit each other? The violence has no bite to it. It’s not relevant. It doesn’t reflect the streets and I come from the streets.”

Cleo isn’t fazed. “It reflects the Canadian streets,” she says. “It’s a Canadian game. It reflects ice and snow, that’s what it reflects.”

“Well and good,” he says. “I understand that. But this is New York, New York. Where’s the fuggin criminal element? Who do we root for? Escapist violence is all right in the movies. But this is live. Real people swinging sticks. Without any relevance, it’s kind of disgusting. If it doesn’t reflect the streets, you wonder what these guys are doing it for. What’s the point?”

Rookie Move: The cover of the 1980 U.S. first edition.