Bill Gadsby was a hero in his first game as a Ranger in November 1954 and he remained one of the Blueshirts’ best back liners in history throughout his career in The Big Apple.
Gadsby, who died at age 88 on Thursday, was the quintessential defenseman of his time. He was a devastating body checker, savvy in his end and a superior offensive force as well.
With a clean check in March 1955, he almost ended Toronto Maple Leafs blue liner Tim Horton’s career, sending the ace to the hospital with a broken jaw and right leg.
Goaltenders such as Rangers Hall of Famer Gump Worsley loved Gadsby because he responsibly took care of his turf and would block shots when necessary.
There was one block that I’ll never forget, but before getting to that, let me explain how and why Gadsby came to New York.
By the 1954-55 season, the Rangers had been out of the playoffs for four straight years. To say the least, fans were getting uneasy. Ditto for manager Frank Boucher.
It was time for change and Boucher finally traded defenseman Allan Stanley (a future Hall of Famer) and popular forward Nick Mickoski to Chicago for Gadsby and young forward Pete Conacher.
This was a big deal at the time and, as the assistant publicist, it was my job to dash around town and present the press release to all the newspaper sports desks.
The trade all happened on the morning of Thanksgiving Eve and that night the Rangers were hosting Boston in what had been a traditional home-and-home series.
Gadsby and Conacher reported to the old Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets in time for what had become a grudge match.
You see, in those days of the six-team NHL, four teams qualified for the playoffs and for four straight years Boston was beating out New York so we weren’t too fond of the Beantowners.
Just as we had hoped and prayed, Gadsby was everything Boucher hoped he would be. His defense was impeccable and his offensive thrusts were arresting to the eyes.
In an era when shot-blocking was not nearly as common as it is now, Gadsby never hesitated to thrust his body in front of a flying puck.
Unfortunately in that game, Bill did it one time too many. Late in the contest, he went down to foil a Bruin shot and was struck in the jaw.
New York won the game, but lost Gadsby for several weeks. But on his return he proved to be a future Hall of Famer.
With Phil Watson at the helm for 1955-56, the Rangers’ defense comprised Gadsby, Lou Fontinato, Jack Evans and Harry Howell. It was one of the league’s best and helped the Blueshirts into the playoffs for three straight years.
As a Ranger, Bill was a three-time All-Star yet obtained surprisingly little attention. The prime reason for that was that Fontinato had become the People’s Choice because of his rambunctious play and affection for fighting.
Gadsby’s teammates included several Hall of Famers including Worsley, Howell and right wing Andy Bathgate.
But when it came to winning the Stanley Cup, their problem was that Montreal’s mighty Canadiens were in the way. The Habs won five straight Cups from 1956 through 1960.
Although the New Yorkers gave the Habs a battle, there was no way they could oust Rocket Richard’s powerhouse.
This close-but-no-cigar syndrome dogged Gadsby throughout his career. He was traded to Detroit in 1961-62 and reached the Cup Final three times, but never sipped the Champs’ champagne.
During his 23 years as a big-leaguer, Gadsby proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was a champ without having been on a Cup-winner!