To many historians, one story stands above all others when it comes to “Incredible But True” hockey tales.
- The date was April 7, 1928 — the Rangers vs. the heavily favored Montreal Maroons in the 1928 Stanley Cup Final. Montreal had won the opener of the best-of-five tourney
- The Rangers’ only goalie, Lorne Chabot, was badly injured early in the game.
- Chabot was hospitalized with what amounted to a broken face and no goalie was available as a replacement.
- It was Patrick, the team’s manager-coach, who decided to put on the pads himself.
- Patrick was 44 years old. He had been a Hall of Fame defenseman, but he never played major league goal before in his life.
- Yet, miracle of miracles, Lester beat the Maroons and Hall of Fame goalie Clint Benedict, 2-1.
How was this incredible feat accomplished?
James Burchard, who covered hockey for the old New York World-Telegram newspaper, was there at the time. Burchard covered the story and was in the Blueshirts’ dressing room when the Rangers wondered how they could get another goalie.
“The place became bedlam,” wrote Eric Whitehead in his book, The Patricks– Hockey’s Royal Family. “Well-meaning outsiders burst in with suggestions for ways out of the dilemma.”
Burchard was one of them and put in his two cents worth. “G’wan, Lester,” urged the big, gravel-throated Burchard, “show ’em what you’re made of.”
But Patrick wanted more seasoned advice and turned to his two aces, Bun Cook and Frank Boucher, who persuaded him to be the Rangers’ substitute goalie. Lester called trainer Harry Westerby and declared: “Harry, I’m going in goal.”
The Rangers were stunned and so were fans in Montreal’s Forum. Eric Whitehead noted: “When Patrick skated out onto the ice minutes later, he was greeted by a curious silence as the puzzled fans pondered this unfamiliar figure. Then, when it finally dawned on them that the new goalie was Lester Patrick there was a ripple of applause that was perhaps more bemused than enthusiastic.”
Montreal Star sports editor Baz O’Meara commented on the bizarre episode: “There was ‘Laughing Lester,’ who has done everything in hockey sauntering out with a little black cap askew over his whitening thatch, his lanky legs upholstered by brown pads that seemed to fit him like father’s old trousers…”
Finally, the puck was dropped and the Rangers pounced on it. They scarcely let the Maroons touch the disk, and when the Montrealers did manage to get off a shot at Patrick, old Lester turned it away. Somehow, Patrick blanked the Maroons in the second period and when the teams trooped into the dressing room for the 10-minute break the score was still tied, 0-0.
All of a sudden the Patrick ploy no longer seemed like a joke. His decision to play goal was a catalyst for the Rangers and they returned to the ice for the third period more determined than ever. Within 50 seconds Bill Cook had barreled through the Maroons’ defense and lifted the puck past goalie Clint Benedict. But the Montrealers weren’t about to give up easily.
They counterattacked more fiercely than ever, yet Patrick — nicknamed The Silver Fox — stood his ground, groaning with every kick-save that strained his aging physique. At last, with only five minutes and forty seconds remaining, Lester cracked. Nels Stewart skirted the Rangers’ defense, feinted once, and then skimmed the puck past Patrick, making the score 1-1.
Lester held fast after that as the clock ticked its way to the conclusion of regulation time. Then it was sudden-death overtime — the first goal would win. The Maroons were counting on the ancient Lester to fold in the stretch.
After all, there was just so much a senior citizen could take. But somehow Patrick managed to foil the Maroons in the early minutes of the overtime, and soon the momentum — as so often happens in the kaleidoscopic game of hockey — tilted in the Rangers’ favor.
Frank Boucher, their creative center, captured the puck and made his way up the ice. He zigzagged past a Maroon’s defenseman and swerved toward the goal. Benedict crouched in the Montreal goal as Boucher cruised in. The shot was hard and low and the puck flew past the Maroons’ netminder.
The Rangers had won, 2-1, and Lester Patrick was the triumphant goalie. To a man, the Rangers clambered over the boards and surrounded Patrick. He was hoisted to their shoulders and carried off the ice. One of the broadest grins of all was worn by Jim Burchard, who patted Lester on the back.
Lester replied with the understatement of the half-century: “As luck would have it, we won by a goal in overtime…”
It was luck — with a lot of pluck. As Eric Whitehead concluded: “An ageless and unquenchable love of the fray and the courage of an old bull seal returned to protect his herd, yes. It was vintage Patrick family stuff!”
But Lester couldn’t do it alone and, besides, the best-of-five series now was only tied at one win apiece.
Patrick’s next order of business was finding a goalie to finish the series and he did just that, signing Joe Miller, who had played goal for the New York Americans.
Miller lost the next game putting the Blueshirts on the verge of elimination , but Joe rebounded to win the next two contests and the Rangers had their first Stanley Cup.
The championship wouldn’t have happened were it not for Patrick’s stunning victory in goal.
To hail this remarkable feat. Burchard actually composed a poem about Lester’s adventure:
‘Twas in the spring of twenty-eight
A golden Ranger page,
That Lester got a summons
To guard the Blueshirt cage.
Chabot had stopped a fast one,
A bad break for our lads,
The Cup at stake and no one
To don the Ranger pads.
“We’re cooked,” lamented Patrick,
“This crisis I had feared.”
He leaned upon his newest crutch.
And wept inside his beard.
Then suddenly he came to life,
No longer halt or lame.
“Give me the pads,” he bellowed,
“I used to play this game.”
Then how the Rangers shouted.
How Patrick was acclaimed.
Maroons stood sneering, gloating,
They should have been ashamed.
The final score was two to one.
Old Lester met the test.
The Rangers finally won the Cup,
But Us has since confessed.
“I just spoke up to cheer the boys,
“I must have been delirious.
“But now, in reminiscence,
“I’m glad they took me serious.”