out here stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?

Born in LaSalle, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1952, the ever-entertaining Gilles Gratton is 69 today. While his pro goaling career lasted just six years in the 1970s, the man they called Gratoony the Loony made sure they were memorable ones. He started in the WHA, spending the 1972-73 season with the long-lost Ottawa Nationals, then moved west when the franchise shifted to Toronto to reform as the Toros. In 1975, he arrived in the NHL, where he suited up for a season with the St. Louis Blues and then another with New York’s Rangers. 

When the great Roy MacGregor caught up with him in 1975 with a profile for The Canadian Magazine, the 22-year-old goaltender had signed a five-year, C$645,000 contract with the Toros that came with a bonus: a canary yellow Porsche 911-S Targa. “Nobody should be paid as much as I get,” Gratton told him. “In real work terms, I’m worth nothing. I’m not helping anyone, not making anything. What am I doing for the world? I’m stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?”

That’s not all. “The difference between me and a hockey player is this,” Gratton continued: “when summer ends, a hockey player gets itchy, I feel like killing myself. If I never played hockey again, it wouldn’t matter. A real hockey player would be broken. Me, I’m liberated.” 

who can impress the forest?

Branch Plant: Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on a Saturday of this same date in 1957, Ron Duguay is 64 today. A sometime centreman and right winger, he was drafted, you’ll maybe remember, by the New York Rangers in 1977, and in his rookie campaign scored 20 goals and 40 points. He reached the goal-scoring peak in 1981-82, when he scored 40 goals. In two stints with the Blueshirts, Duguay played parts of eight seasons with New York. Veteran of a dozen NHL seasons in all, he also suited up for the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Los Angeles Kings. He played for Canada in the 1981 Canada Cup. In recent years, Duguay worked as a TV analyst on MSG Networks’ Rangers broadcasts. 

larry kwong: broke the ice, a little

“I broke the ice a little bit,” is what Larry Kwong said, looking back on the trail he blazed in 1948 to hockey’s big league. “Maybe being the first Chinese player in the NHL gave more of a chance for other Chinese boys that play hockey,” he told David Davis of the New York Times in 2013. 

Born in 1923 on a Sunday of this date in Vernon, B.C., Kwong was the first player of Asian descent to play in the NHL. For all that he achieved in a long and productive minor-league career, his hockey history is framed by the discrimination and outright racism he faced as a Chinese-Canadian, as well as by the lingering disappointment associated with his call-up to the NHL.

Summoned by the New York Rangers in March of 1942 for an end-of-season game against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, Kwong watched the first two periods of the game from the New York. Finally, late in the third, coach Frank Boucher sent him out. “He had the puck briefly,” Tom Hawthorn narrated it in the pages of the Globe and Mail a couple of years ago, “made a pass and then just as quickly was back on the bench.” 

Kwong’s NHL career lasted less than a minute. The next day, he was back with the EAHL’s New York Rovers. “I didn’t get a real chance to show what I can do,” he told the Times

He signed the following year for the Valleyfield Braves of the QSHL, where coach Toe Blake would deem him indispensable. He later played in the IHL and, at the end of his career, in the early 1960s , in Switzerland. Larry Kwong died on March 15, 2018. He was 94. 

The glimpses here from Kwong’s career are from a 2018 biographical comic by Richmond, Virginia, artist Robert Ullman. You can find more of his work at robullman.com

(Images courtesy of Robert Ullman)

ed-dee!

Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on a Tuesday of this same date in 1939, Ed Giacomin is 82 today, so a birthday nod to him. ““Ed-dee! Ed-dee! Ed-dee!”  is what the fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden chanted in 1989 when the Rangers retired the number 1 Giacomin wore in his decade with the team, starting in 1966. He was twice named to the NHL’s First All-Star team and (with Gilles Villemure) won the 1971 Vézina Trophy. He was beloved in New York, which is why it registered as such a shock in the fall of 1975 when Rangers GM Emile Francis exposed him on waivers. Snapped up by the Detroit Red Wings, Giacomin played his next game was at MSG … against the Rangers. Wearing Red Wing red and number 31, Giacomin stymied his former teammates sufficiently for Detroit to depart with a 6-4 win. Fans booed the Rangers that night, and every time Giacomin stopped a shot, his name echoed through the building: “Ed-dee! Ed-dee! Ed-dee!”  

Ed Giacomin played parts of three seasons with Detroit before he retired in 1978. He was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987. The sales job depicted here dates to 1974.

ott’s job

A son of Kitchener, Ontario, back when it was still called Berlin, Ott Heller was born on a Thursday of this date in 1910. After starting as a right winger, he grew up to be a defenceman, and a stalwart one at that, working the New York Rangers blueline for 15 seasons starting in 1932. New York won two Stanley Cup championships in those years. From 1942 through to ’45, Heller served as captain of the Rangers. 

The game in which he’s depicted here won’t be held up, perhaps, as an exemplar of his or his teammates’ defensive prowess: on this night, March 4 of 1944, Heller’s Rangers lost to the Bruins at Boston Garden by a score of 10-9. That’s Heller on the right, clashing with Boston center Art Jackson, who contributed a pair of goals to the Bruins’ total. Jackson’s teammate Bill Cowley collected four goals and a pair of assists. Winger Fern Gauthier scored a hattrick for New York. Ken McAuley was the Ranger goaltender, with Bert Gardiner in the Boston net. 

At the time, the 19 goals the teams combined for was reported to be a new NHL record for scoring abundance, though it wasn’t so: on January 10, 1920, Montreal and the Toronto St. Patricks splurged to the tune of 21 goals in a 14-7 Canadiens win. Several other previous games had seen 19 goals, too. That 1920 game still has a hold on the record, though it’s now shared with a modern-day game from December 11, 1985, when Edmonton’s profuse Oilers overwhelmed the Chicago Black Hawks 12-9. 

ready eyes ready

Born on a Tuesday of this very date in 1915, Wilbert Hiller was a son of Berlin, Ontario, modern-day Kitchener, where his childhood friends included Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart, and Bobby Bauer. Dutch was the nickname Hiller mostly went by in his NHL years, which started in New York with the Rangers in 1937. As a speedy left winger — he was renowned as one of the league’s swiftest skaters — Hiller helped the Rangers win a Stanley Cup championship in 1940. He played for Detroit and Boston before landing in Montreal. He had his best season, in the goals-gathering sense, with the Canadiens, in 1944-45, when he collected 20. He won another Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1946. Hiller sometimes wore his glasses to play, and in 1942, he was the second NHLer to use contact lenses, after Montreal defenceman Tony Graboski. He migrated to California after he retired, where he coached a bit, and worked as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company. His gaze turned again to pucks in 1967, when the Los Angeles Kings joined the NHL, and Hiller worked for the team as a goal judge. Dutch Hiller died at the age of 90 in 2005. (Image: Conrad Poirier, Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec)

phil watson’s piston trouble

Phil Watson’s credentials as an NHL coach were forged out of a 13-year NHL career as a rumbustious right winger, all but one season of which he spent with the New York Rangers. Born in Montreal on a Friday of this same date in 1914, Watson took up behind the bench the year after he hung up stick and skates in 1948, at first with the New York Rovers, then of the QSHL, and later with the QJHL’s Quebec Citadelles.

In 1955, a 42-year-old Watson succeeded Muzz Patrick as coach of the Rangers. Pictured here is the end of his first campaign, which came on a March night in 1956. On their way to another Stanley Cup that season, the Canadiens dispensed with Watson’s Rangers in five first-round games, completing the job with a 7-0 demolition at the Forum.

Doug Harvey, Henri Richard, and Dickie Moore each scored a pair of goals; the shutout was Jacques Plante’s. The Gazette described the moment we’re seeing here: “When the siren sounded to end the game the Ranger players shook hands with their conquerors. Then Phil Watson and Toe Blake, the rival coaches, met at centre ice. Toe took off his hat when he received Watson’s congratulations. The crowd liked it and roared approval.” 

Watson steered the Rangers through five not-specially-glorious seasons before he was fired midway through the 1959-60 season. He would go on to coach the Boston Bruins for another two seasons in the early 1960s. His coaching finale came a decade after that when he took charge of the WHA’s Philadelphia/Vancouver Blazers for two seasons in the ’70s.

Back when Gay Talese was writing hockey dispatches for The New York Times, he caught up to Watson after a game against the Boston Bruins. This was October of 1958; Watson explained the situation this way:

“My club is like a new car that has little things wrong with it. We got trouble with the windshield wipers, squeaks in the rear, and brakes need adjusting. It’ll take 10,000 miles to break this club in. In Boston I had piston trouble and we’re tied, 4-4. They also had the referee on their side.”

down + out with kenny reardon

Downfall: Ken Reardon dislocated his left shoulder on the night of April 1, 1950, in Montreal’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers at the Forum. It turned out to be the last game of his NHL career. Attending the patient are, from left, Montreal’s Glen Harmon, possibly Kenny Mosdell, unknown, New York goaltender Charlie Rayner, Floyd Curry, and Ranger defenceman Gus Kyle. The trainer is (I think) Bill Head; don’t know the name of the Forum rink attendant.

The game was all but over at the Montreal Forum, and the score was a sour one for the local team on this night, 71 years ago, with the visiting New York Rangers nursing a 3-2 lead. The loss, which would put the Canadiens down two games in their opening-round series against the Rangers, would prove costlier still: as the third-period clock ticked down, Montreal’s Ken Reardon went down in the New York zone.

It happened to be the All-Star defenceman’s 29th birthday. Born in Winnipeg on Friday, April 1, 1929, the future Hall of Famer had earlier in the evening assisted on Norm Dussault’s first-period goal.

That was the very last point of Reardon’s seven-year NHL career — insofar as it turned out to be Reardon’s very last NHL game.

“Canadiens were engaged in an all-out drive on the New York nets when the crash came,” Vern DeGeer reported in the pages of the Gazette. Following a face-off in the Ranger zone, Reardon went after a straying puck. “He was ridden into the boards by big Gus Kyle and collapsed in a heap.”

X-rays taken later that night at Montreal’s Western Hospital told the tale: Reardon’s left shoulder was dislocated. It was the same one he’d hurt a year earlier in a game against Toronto.

With Reardon out of the line-up, Montreal fell to the Rangers in five games. In the opinion of New York coach Lynn Patrick, Reardon’s absence was a key to the Rangers’ success: Montreal just couldn’t replace his drive, rugged defensive play, and capacity to rally a faltering team.

Reardon seems to have been aiming to return to the Montreal roster in the fall of 1950. He rehabilitated his shoulder that summer, even played some baseball with his Canadiens teammates. But by September, with training camp approaching, the shoulder and a longer-term back problem was enough to persuade him that the time was right to retire.

“Reardon is convinced that he should withdraw from active play while he is still in one piece,” was the message to the press from Frank Selke, Montreal’s managing director.

And so, that fall, Reardon started his new job for the Canadiens, as what Selke described as an ambassador of good will. He later served as assistant GM as well as vice-president of the team, playing a part in six Stanley Cup championships in all as a player, manager, and executive.

Also in 1950: the former defenceman got married, in December, to Suzanne Raymond, daughter of Canadiens president Senator Donat Raymond. As Montreal’s playing staff worked on their Stanley Cup project, the happy couple honeymooned in Montego Bay in Jamaica.

calgary hal

Hal Winkler

Tiger King: The bald-pated custodian is a phrase sometimes associated with Hal Winkler when he used to play, back in the 1920s. Born in Gretna, Manitoba, on a Tuesday of this date in 1894, he was tender of nets for the WCHL Edmonton Eskimos when they lost out to the Ottawa Senators in the 1923 Stanley Cup finals. By the time he took this pose, above, it would have been 1925 or so, when he was with the WCHL/WHL Calgary Tigers. He got to the NHL in 1926, when he joined the New York Rangers at 32. With Lorne Chabot proving himself in the New York nets, Winkler was sold to the Boston Bruins that winter. He played only a season-and-a-half for the Bruins before Tiny Thompson took over, but Winkler was so much admired in Boston that the team made sure to include his name on the Stanley Cup they won in 1929, after a season in which Winkler appeared in not a single NHL game. With a few more minor-league campaigns notched on his pads, he retired in 1931, whereupon he returned to Manitoba to run a mink ranch. (Image: Oregon Historical Society. Oregon Journal Negative Collection, Lot 1368; Box 371; 0371N275. Used with permission.)

ranger rollick

Net Gain: The current edition of the New York Rangers ran up a 9-0 romp last night at Madison Square Garden at the expense of the visiting the Philadelphia Flyers, but this isn’t that: from 1967, here’s LeRoy Neiman’s impression of Ranger Rod Gilbert (#7) buzzing Glenn Hall’s Chicago net, with Vic Hadfield (#11) and Jean Ratelle (#19) in attendance. Not a Black Hawk defenceman in sight, shamefully, though Bobby Hull (#9) is on hand to witness the goal.

crease confab

Coaching Sesh: Born in Winnipeg on a Friday of this date in 1923, Church Russell played three seasons at centre and left wing for the New York Rangers in the mid-1940s, scoring a creditable 20 goals in 1946-47. That’s him in the middle here, number 16, alongside another Manitoban Rene Trudell (Mariapolis), with whom Russell often lined up that season on the Atomic Line, in partnership with Transcona’s own Cal Gardner. At right is the dapper (Ottawa-born) Ranger coach, Frank Boucher.

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 and launching a chant that reverberates to this day at Madison Square Garden. (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.