How a Magic Potion Almost Brought a Playoff Berth

During the Spring of 1950, the Rangers scored a pair of colossal upsets. Finishing three wins under the .500 mark, the Blueshirts began winning in the post-season.

First, they upset the favored Montreal Canadiens in five games and then extended the even-more-favored Detroit Red Wings to seven games before losing in double-overtime.

That success bred optimism in the New York camp when the 1950-51 campaign began. But hope turned south and “Slump” became the Blueshirts’ middle name.

This called for action and for its Slumpbuster, the Rangers made NHL history — with a liquid concoction.

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Alas,  once and only once was there a big, black bottle that contained a “magic elixir” that really helped the Blueshirts win, if only for a short while. It was downed — sometimes unwillingly — by that sad season’s Rangers, and for good reason.

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Frank Boucher/AP Images

They couldn’t win games and were on a treadmill to NHL oblivion. Neither GM Frank Boucher nor coach Neil Colville had an answer, but a Manhattan restaurateur did.

Gene Leone, an avid Rangers fan, who hosted a weekly hockey writers luncheon at his restaurant across from Madison Square Garden, had a liquid brainstorm that he confided to Boucher. “Gene told me that he had concocted a magic brew,” wrote Boucher in his autobiography, When the Rangers Were Young.

“He said that if players would drink it, they’d shake off their lethargy and start playing to their potential.”

With nothing to lose except another game, Boucher agreed. On New Year’s Eve, hours before a match at the Boston Garden against the Bruins, Leone showed up at the dressing room. “Gene had a large black bottle with a note attached: DRINK IT AND WIN,” Boucher wrote.

Offensive star Don Raleigh and his teammates all drank the potion, then went out and beat Boston, 3-0. After a close 3-2 loss the next night, the oversized wine bottle swathed in black tape worked its magic again before New York’s game against Detroit, and the visiting Red Wings were defeated 5-3. Dubbed the “flagitious flagon” by New York World-Telegram writer Jim Burchard, the black bottle became a headliner.

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Don Raleigh/AP Images

The elixir had quickly intoxicated the beleaguered Blueshirts to respectability, but the biggest test was yet to come in a Jan. 6 game against Conn Smythe’s Maple Leafs in Toronto. His club having won three Cups in the previous four years (another would come later that Spring), Smythe made arrangements for Leone’s black bottle to be seized by Canadian Customs before it reached the Rangers’ dressing room.

Meanwhile, Leone demanded that his concoction – the formula was so secret, he wouldn’t even trust it to paper – be prepared at the last possible moment. This was done the afternoon of the game, after which he handed it to Burchard at LaGuardia Airport. The reporter carried a sealed bag containing the flagon, surrounded by three hot-water bottles, and off went the DC-4.

Meanwhile, a uniformed Canadian customs officer was ready to seize the enemy potion when the New York writer arrived at the terminal, but hockey writer Al Nickleson of the Globe and Mail and his photographer, Harold Robinson, intervened.

According to Nickleson, Robinson saved the Rangers “by undermining the customs officer with stale jokes and Christmas cigars so that Burchard had no trouble slipping by.”

That done, Robinson pushed Burchard into his sedan and sped to Maple Leaf Gardens. Avoiding at least three possible speeding tickets, Robinson delivered Burchard and bottle just in time for the Blueshirts to quaff their brew.

By this time, it was apparent that a few Rangers, though tickled they were winning with Leone’s potion, loathed the liquid. Robinson took a swig and said, “It tastes like the Atlantic Ocean.” Center Edgar Laprade, however, sipped the elixir and revealed, “One gulp and we feel like a bunch of war horses.”

That done, the Blueshirts took the ice, scored three quick goals and disposed of the eventual Cup champions, 4-2. It was the New Yorkers’ first win over Toronto at the Gardens in more than three years.

A day later, the Toronto Telegram‘s headline shouted, “RANGERS NEW AID SCORNED BY LEAFS.”

Next, it was Chicago and another win, putting Boucher’s team in third place. But eventually, the elixir lost its power and the Rangers consequently nosedived out of a playoff berth. Crestfallen, Leone surrendered and finally revealed the magic elixir’s hitherto secret ingredients.

“It was only orange juice and ginger ale, with a little honey,” he said. Then a pause and a wistful reminder: “but it almost turned the trick.”

Undaunted, the general staff soon would turn to yet another trick only this one was a hypnotist named Dr. David Tracy. But I’ll tell you about him another time.

P.S.: Dr. Tracy’s prescription was no better than restaurateur Leone’s magic elixir.