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When it comes to colorful characters sprinkled through the Rangers’ nine decades of National Hockey League play, the Blueshirts’ left wingers rank among the most artistic and inimitable at the same time.
Take Camille (The Eel) Henry as an example. In his first NHL season, 1953-54, the fragile-looking French-Canadian skated exclusively on the power play and yet was productive enough to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Then there was the case of Lynn Patrick, son of Rangers president-manager-coach Lester Patrick and a soldier in the United States Army in World War II. When Lynn was Honorably Discharged at war’s end, he planned to return to the Blueshirts’ roster but Lester said that his son’s legs were gone and refused to sign Lynn to a contract.
But the younger Patrick found a loophole that allowed him to rejoin the Rangers despite his boss father’s defiant rejection. Lynn found that the GI Bill of Rights guaranteed that any serviceman could have his pre-war job back. And there was nothing Lester could do about vetoing Uncle Sam’s post-war rules.
There are many other compelling stories about the Best Nine Rangers left wings. Check these out for your enjoyment. (They are delivered in alphabetical order):
1. BUN COOK: Portsider on one of the National Hockey League’s most famous lines, Fred — nicknamed Bunny or Bun — Cook worked almost exclusively with older brother Bill on the right side and Frank Boucher at center. Each player was integral to the unit. In his role, Bun played a more robust game than his brother or Boucher.
Their results were all positive, including major contributions to the 1928 and 1933 Stanley Cup-winning teams. Bun was overshadowed by his more spectacular older brother and the smooth Boucher most of the time. But Bun himself was a deft passer who could muck his way in the corners with the best of them. He was forced out of the lineup during the 1935-36 season by a recurring throat problem.
In the definitive encyclopedic book, Players — The Ultimate A-Z Guide of Everyone Who Has Ever Played in the NHL by Andrew Podnieks, Bun is portrayed as an under-the-radar performer. “Despite not being quite the scorer Boucher or Bill was, he nevertheless finished in the Top 10 in scoring three times,” noted Podnieks. “He played 10 years with the Blueshirts, the last a shortened year.”
Bun, like brother Bill, eventually settled into a coaching role and became one of the most successful mentors in the American Hockey League. He briefly played and coached, first in Providence, leading the Reds to a Calder Cup in 1937-38, his first season, and again two years later. Before retiring in 1956, he would end up winning five more Calder Cups, coaching the powerful Cleveland Barons. Eventually, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a veteran player in 1995.
Today’s Equivalent: Derek Stepan
2. ADAM GRAVES: So popular did he become in New York sports circles it’s hard to believe that Graves originally made his name playing for championship Edmonton teams alongside Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky.
Acquired from the Oilers after the 1990-91 season, Graves went on to rewrite the Rangers’ franchise record books. In the Blueshirts’ Stanley Cup-winning season (1993-94), Graves set a then-franchise record with 52 goals, breaking Vic Hadfield’s old mark from 1971.
Playing an integral part of the success that the team had, Graves followed up his historic season with 10 more red lights in 23 Stanley Cup playoff games, including a vital goal in Game 7 of the Cup Final vs Vancouver, which gave the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead at the time, in a thrilling contest that they eventually won, 3-2.
Graves was not the original NHL power forward, but he did redefine that style of play from the time he came to Manhattan in 1991. Adam produced a Blueshirts victory over the Devils in the 1997 playoffs when he skated around a pursuing Hall of Famer, Scott Stevens to score an overtime series-winning goal.
His record-setting season aside, “Gravy,” would settle into a role as a consistent mid-20s to 30s goal scorer. Every season from 1995-’96 through 1999-2000, saw Graves tally at least 22 goals while earning respect across the NHL. His “other” big season, wound up being the 1998-99 campaign. He delivered 162 hits and paced the team with 38 goals, including 14 power-play markers.
On Jan. 14, 2001, Graves would tally his last milestone with the team as he recorded goal number 300 in a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. On June 24 of that year, Graves was traded during the Entry Draft to the San Jose Sharks for Mikael Samuelsson and Chris Gosselin.
The quintessential gentleman off the ice, after his retirement Graves returned to New York and became a Rangers good-will ambassador and remains one of the Gotham’s most beloved athletes.
Today’s Equivalent: Chris Kreider
3. VIC HADFIELD: The most amazing aspect of this likable Ranger was his transformation from a rugged ice cop with a little scoring ability to a forward who would reach the 50-goal mark.
Part of the latter accomplishment was due to the fact that Hadfield was teamed with a pair of artistic skaters; center Jean Ratelle and right wing Rod Gilbert; both Hall of Famers. Together, the trio formed what became known as the GAG Line, as in Goal A Game.
A talented scorer no doubt, but one could only wonder what Vic’s numbers would have been like had he stayed healthy. Throughout his career, Vic suffered many an injury from his battles. A broken hand, (suffered in his first career game,) a severed Achilles tendon, a broken foot, and knee issues were among the list of battle wounds that Hadfield incurred.
Vic’s game peaked in 1971-72 when the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final but lost in six games to Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. In that campaign, Hadfield scored a then-franchise record of 50-goals (1971-72) and accumulated 106 points. By that time Vic had eschewed the rough and tumble game that got him into the NHL in the first place. Gregarious to a fault, Hadfield finished his career as one of the most popular Rangers of all-time.
Today’s Equivalent: Rick Nash
4. CAMILLE HENRY: Because he was one of the skinniest and lightest players in National Hockey League history — and very slippery in his moves as well — Henry was nicknamed “Camille The Eel.” However, his seemingly fragile frame was more of an asset than a hindrance in terms of his survival and success.
A rookie in the 1953-54 season, Henry became a power-play specialist under the tutelage of teammate Max Bentley, a Hall of Famer. Like a designated hitter in baseball, The Eel would get on the ice only when New York had a man advantage. He was so adept in that role that Cammy totaled 24 goals and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.
One of his most memorable efforts was a four-goal game in his rookie year, scored against one of the finest goalies of all-time, Terry Sawchuk of the Detroit Red Wings. “That four-goal night won me the rookie of the year,” chuckled Henry. “It also killed Sawchuk’s chances to win the Vezina Trophy and make the First All-Star Team. Terry thought he had them all in his pocket.”
In 1958, Henry — by now taking a regular turn as well as working the power play — won further honors when he was named the winner of the Lady Byng Trophy. His best days were from 1955-56 through 1958-59 on coach Phil Watson‘s excellent Rangers teams.
Today’s Equivalent: Mika Zibanejad
5. TONY LESWICK: Known to all New York hockey fans as “Tough Tony,” Leswick played a rugged game with a willingness to take on fighters much bigger than himself. He was a key forward on the Post-World War II Rangers, teaming excellently with crafty center Edgar Laprade. Together, they helped the Blueshirts to the 1950 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings.
Leswick was a key element in the Rangers Post-World War II rebuilding process and soon became one of the club’s most reliable high-end goal-scorers. He also proved to be a Grade-A pest of the opposition. His clashes included bouts with Toronto’s Wild Bill Ezinicki and Montreal’s Maurice (Rocket) Richard.
In one Rangers-Canadiens game, Leswick so annoyed The Rocket that at game’s end the two brawled at center ice until teammates and on-ice officials could pry them apart. Opponents weren’t Leswick’s only targets. “Once,” said Rangers publicist Stan Saplin, “Tony was given a two-minute penalty but he kept chirping in the sin bin with the penalty timekeeper. Finally, the confused timekeeper allowed him out of the box before his time was up.”
“Tony was a combative little bugger,” summed up Boucher. “He played a lot bigger than his size.” Unfortunately, his spunk and scoring never were enough to enable him to drink Stanley Cup champagne. But in all other ways, this was one left winger who was a winner.
Today’s Equivalent: Mats Zuccarello
6. PENTTI LUND: As Rangers playoff heroes go, few could top the Finnish-born Lund’s efforts in the 1949-50 playoffs in which the underdog New Yorkers faced the Montreal Canadiens in the semi-final round. For starters, coach Lynn Patrick handed Lund the unenviable task of guarding the Babe Ruth of Hockey, the Habs legendary Maurice (Rocket) Richard.
“The trick for me,” Lund once told me, “was to keep the Rocket from scoring because he was so explosive. So, I did the best I could.” Actually, few could have done better. Richard was shut down and Lund became the Rangers leading goal scorer. And when the dust had cleared, Richard’s Canadiens were beaten, 4-1.
“I tried to play The Rocket as cleanly as possible,” Lund added. “The one thing I didn’t want to do was get him mad because when Richard got angry nobody could stop him.”
Lund finished the playoffs with six goals and 11 points, tops in both departments overall playoff performers.
Today’s Equivalent: Kevin Hayes
7. LYNN PATRICK: Older son of Rangers patriarch and original coach-manager Lester (The Silver Fox) Patrick, Lynn arrived in New York during the mid-30s with a burden he would bear throughout his career on Broadway. Both hockey writers and fans believed that the gifted left wing was given a major league job because his dad was the boss of the team. Unfortunately, for too long, only Rangers insiders knew otherwise.
“Lester was not indulging in any nepotism,” Boucher, one of the veterans on the team recalled. “Before he signed Lynn he consulted with Bill Cook and me. We told Lester that Lynn could help us.”
Help the Rangers he did, gradually moving up from the third to the second line and, eventually, to the top unit, with Phil Watson at center and Bryan Hextall on the right wing. The line reached its peak during the 1939-40 season when the Rangers won their third Stanley Cup. By this time not only was Lynn a star but his kid brother Murray — better known to the fans as Muzz — had since gained a spot on the champions’ defense.
Interestingly, both Lynn and Muzz were among the first National Hockey League players to enlist in World War II. When the conflict had ended, Muzz retired as a player but Lynn returned to the Blueshirts, hoping to regain a job on left wing. His father thought that Lynn had lost his scoring touch and refused to sign him. Lynn, however, pointed out that the GI Bill of Rights guaranteed that any American servicemen could regain his pre-war job and Lester was compelled to re-sign his son.
Lynn repaid the favor by having a splendid season before finally retiring. In the 1949-50 season, as Rangers head coach, Lynn led the Blueshirts to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final before New York succumbed to Detroit in double overtime.
Today’s Equivalent: J.T. Miller
8. DEAN PRENTICE: Many believe that this diligent port side digger on Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate‘s line also belonged in the Hockey Shrine. Prentice did much of the forechecking and board work for Bathgate and could also score himself
Like Ranger stalwarts such as Bathgate, Harry Howell, Lou Fontinato and Ron Murphy, Prentice was a product of the Guelph Biltmore Madhatters of the Ontario Hockey League’s Junior A Division which won the Memorial Cup, emblematic of Canadian Junior hockey supremacy in the early 1950s.
Prentice began his career with the Blueshirts, leaping from the Junior ranks during the 1952-’53 season, and while he did suit up for five different NHL teams during Dean’s career, his best years were with the Rangers. A constant presence among the NHL Second Team All-Stars, Prentice’s career often gets overlooked and minimized by too many. Even his ranking as a Second Team All-Star showed how underrated a player he was.
As a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee, I once recommended Prentice for membership, but he wound up a few votes short of the nomination. With 10 20-goal seasons, Prentice was as valuable as a scorer as he was a checker. His only shortcoming — if it could be called that — was his inability to play on a Stanley Cup-winner. Bathgate-watchers of that era will tell you that Andy would never have been a Hall of Famer without Prentice on his line.
Today’s Equivalent: Michael Grabner
9. ALEX SHIBICKY: Along with the brothers, Neil and Mac Colville, Shibicky shone on offense. The trio comprised what was dubbed “The Bread Line” since it thrived during the Great Depression of the 1930s. But the unit reached its peak in the 1939-40 season when it helped the Blueshirts win their third Stanley Cup, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games.
Beloved by his teammates, Shibicky frequently was chided by his buddies for holding the puck too long before shooting. In his autobiography, “When The Rangers Were Young,” then-coach Frank Boucher described how his bench reacted when Shibicky took off on one of his patented rushes up ice:
“As Alex waited and waited,” Boucher remembered, “the response went: ‘Shoot, Shibicky…Shoot Shibicky…Ah, [expletive] Shibicky!'” According to Boucher, Shibicky, along with the Colville brothers, “patterned themselves on our old Cook-Boucher-Cook line, each knowing his routine perfectly, the three swooping over the ice with the precision of a flying circus.”
A product of the farm system developed by Lester Patrick, Shibicky played his entire eight-year career for the Blueshirts, with a three-year stint in the army breaking up his career between 1942 and 1945. Like many players whose skills were rusted by the war effort, Shibicky soon retired after being discharged from the service.
Today’s Equivalent: Jimmy Vesey