Six seasons Buddy O’Connor played for his hometown team in Montreal in the 1940s, putting in work as a serviceable centreman and helping the Canadiens win a Stanley Cup championship. But it was after he was traded in 1947 to the New York Rangers that O’Connor’s star really began to shine in the NHL.
Born on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1916, O’Connor contrived to score 24 goals and 60 points in his first season with the Rangers, 1947-48, which was almost (but not quite) enough to win him the NHL’s scoring championship: as it turned out, his former Montreal teammate Elmer Lach beat him by a single point.
O’Connor did collect two major trophies that season, the Hart (as MVP) and the Lady Byng (for gentlemanly excellence), and in doing so he became the first NHLer to win them in the same season. Each trophy came with $500 bonus that year, and with O’Connor’s share of the Rangers’ playoff money that spring, he took in $4,150 over and above his salary.
The following season. O’Connor’s second with the Rangers, started off with an unfortunate bang when he and a carload of teammates were injured in an accident. Driving from Montreal to New York in early October of 1948, the Rangers collided with a truck on the road six miles north of the U.S. border. Frank Eddolls severed a tendon in his knee, and Bill Moe suffered a concussion; Edgar Laprade broke his nose, and O’Connor a pair of ribs. Only Tony Leswick escaped without injury.
Eddolls missed the most time, finally returning to the ice at the end of December. O’Connor got back earlier that same month, and on December 7, just before New York’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Boston Bruins, he was presented with the silverware he’d earned the year before.
The Rangers were holding down last place at the time in the six-team NHL, while Boston was way up in first. The Rangers took the lead, 2-1, on goals from Pentti Lund and Nick Mickoski, with Grant Warwick replying for the Bruins, but they took a penalty in the second for too-many men, and Ken Smith secured the 2-2 tie for the Bruins. O’Connor centred New York’s third line on the night, skating between Leswick and Clint Albright.
A Blueshirt believer shows his love for the visiting team at Montreal’s Forum on the Saturday night of February 4, 1989, when Guy Lafleur’s Rangers were in town to take on the local Canadiens. Stephane Richer (below, right) opened the scoring for Montreal in the first period, beating Bob Froese in the New York net. Lafleur put a pair of his own past Patrick Roy in the second period, though it wasn’t enough: Montreal prevailed 7-5 on the night. Bill McCreary was the referee; that’s him on the chase in the background.
(Images: Bernard Brault, Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)
It was the New York teams battling it out, Rangers versus Americans, that Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, December 16, 1937, with the visiting team eventually prevailing by a score of 2-0 — which is to say, the dark-shirted Rangers.
“A speedy, well-played contest that was packed with action,” is how The New York Times accounted for it. Ching Johnson was playing his first game as an American on this night, after 11 years a Ranger, and he almost scored. Dave Kerr is the Ranger goaltender at the centre of things here, covering up to stymie the Amerks’ John Gallagher and preserve his shutout. Just a few months after this smothering, Kerr, who was 27 at the time, with a Stanley Cup and a Vézina Trophy both still in his future, would become just the second hockey player to grace the cover of Time magazine.
Also in the frame? Arriving late are Rangers Lynn Patrick (9) and Ott Heller (3), with Sweeney Schriner (11) of the Americans following up with Art Coulter (2). Tussling in front on the right is Americans’ Hap Emms (skating his only shift of the game) and the Rangers’ Cecil Dillon, a right winger who was born in Toledo, Ohio, on a Sunday of today’s date in 1908.
Lynn Patrick scored the Rangers’ initial (and winning) goal in the first period, with Neil Colville scoring a second on Earl Robertson in the Amerks’ net in the third. According to the Times, Toronto manager Conn Smythe was in the house this night, and at the end of the game he offered Lester Patrick the sum of $20,000 if the Ranger boss would sell son Lynn to the Leafs. The answer was a no.
It was on a Saturday of this same date in 1928 that Lester Patrick’s brief career as an NHL goaltender started — and finished. It’s a famous story, of course. Patrick, the 44-year-old coach and manager of the New York Rangers, had his team in Montreal that night, playing the second game of the Stanley Cup finals against the hometown Maroons, who were up a game already in the series, when a second-period backhander by Montreal’s Nels Stewart caught Rangers’ goaltender Lorne Chabot in the left eye. He couldn’t continue. New York didn’t have a back-up dressed, but a couple of able-bodied goaltenders were on hand at the Forum, as it happened, including the Ottawa Senators’ Alec Connell. When Maroons’ management refused to allow them to take the New York goal, coach Patrick stepped (and suited) up.
It wasn’t the first time playing goal for Patrick, who’d all but hung up his skates as a player in 1926. More than a decade earlier, in his days playing defence for the PCHA’s Victoria Aristocrats, he’d done some emergency goaltending. Nor was this Patrick’s NHL debut: a year earlier, at the end of the 1926-27 NHL season, the Rangers’ very first, Patrick had taken a place on New York’s defence after injuries depleted his line-up.
Playing reliever 94 years ago tonight, Patrick stopped 18 shots or so, helping the Rangers to tie the series with a 2-1 win that Frank Boucher sealed in overtime. Thereafter, with Chabot in the hospital, Rangers secured the services of New York Americans’ goaler Joe Miller, who eventually backstopped them to their first Stanley Cup championship.
“The main thing in shooting is your grip on the stick,” Andy Bathgate divulged in January of 1959. “You don’t have to be big and you don’t have to be strong, but you have to have the right grip. People talk a lot about my slap shot — that’s an arm shot, you don’t break the wrists. But my best shot is a wrist shot with no followthrough. I know exactly where it’s going, and I can get it off pretty fast.”
Bathgate, who died on a Friday of this date in 2016 at the age of 83, was playing in his seventh NHL season in ’59. At 26, he was making such impression on the New York Rangers’ right wing that Sports Illustrated put him on its cover. “The most exciting player in hockey,” Kenneth Rudeen called him in the profile within, before casting back to Bathgate’s Winnipeg boyhood. “He had a hockey stick in his hands at 6,” Rudeen wrote, “and he was playing in organized community games at 9. He managed to get in as many as 100 games a season as an adolescent; during one winter he played on eight different teams and coached another.”
Interesting to hear Bathgate explaining how he developed his shot, which would become one of the most effective in hockey. He and his friends, he said, would skate as much as possible on outdoor rinks in the neighbourhood, and even when it was too cold to skate, he and a pal would switch to boots and stand on opposite sides of the ice, “some 70 feet apart,” to alternate shooting and playing goal. Rudeen:
Each wore a heavy gauntlet and tried to catch the puck as the other shot as hard as he could. There was a gentleman’s agreement to keep the puck high, because low shots broke sticks and ankles.
“We’d just keep shooting the puck harder and harder and harder,” Bathgate says. “After a while you developed something. Now all the kids are going in for curling In heated rinks! I’m afraid there aren’t many hungry hockey players coming along out there.”
While developing the ability to launch what is now one of the hardest shots in hockey, Bathgate unwittingly acquired the bad habit of making only high shots. When he discovered later that he could not expect to survive in professional hockey without a variety of shots, he buckled down to learn them. Today he mixes the high hard one judiciously with the rest, but even so he is conspicuous for his attempts to score from far out. Occasionally he succeeds spectacularly. For example, in a game last season he cracked a rising slap shot between the top goal post [crossbar] and the shoulder of the startled Montreal goalie, Jacques Plante, from beyond the blue line, about 75 feet away.
It was later that same year that Bathgate unleashed one of the most consequential shots in hockey history at Plante — only this time, he intended to hit him rather than put the puck past him.
November 1, 1959 was the day, when Montreal was in New York to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. As I’ve written before, Bathgate was mad at the Canadiens goaltender, who’d clattered him into the boards early in the game, cutting him. As Bathgate later told Plante biographer Todd Denault, he’d had revenge in mind when he broke in and let go a high (not-so-judicious, if very accurate) backhand. “I gave him a shot right on his cheek,” Bathgate told Denault.
Plante left the game bleeding from his wounds. When he returned, of course, he was wearing his famous mask.