In all of the Rangers 90-year history, there has never been a more bizarre saga involving Blueshirts icon Lester (The Silver Fox) Patrick and his older son Lynn, than the manner in which the young one upstaged his father — big-time — and saved his playing career.
To better understand their up and down relationship, one must turn back the pages to Lynn’s rookie NHL season, 1934-35.
At the time, Lester was the unchallenged ruler of Rangers hockey, but when he signed his left-wing son to a Blueshirt contract, critics accused the Silver Fox of nepotism.
Nevertheless, Lester stuck by Lynn and was correct in his assumption.
Year-by-year, Lynn’s game improved to a point to where he was eventually (1980) inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. One reason he qualified for Hockey’s Shrine, was his role in leading the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1940, and pacing them to first place in 1941-42 with a league-leading 32 goals. That proved to be eight more than runner-up Roy Conacher of the Bruins.
Lester was extremely proud of Lynn’s contributions to the Rangers and beamed, even more, when Lynn enlisted in the U.S. Army after the United States entered World War II.
Massive enlistments of stars into the Canadian and American armed forces decimated NHL lineups during the Second World War, but no team suffered more than the Rangers. With the war well underway, Lynn became a first lieutenant in the military police while Muzz Patrick was appointed troop commander prior to the Allies’ invasion of North Africa.
Apart from having lost Lynn, Blueshirts coach Frank Boucher watched his leading scorer, Bryan Hextall, leave for the war, as well as a whole line combination comprised of the Colville Brothers, Neil and Mac, with Alex Shibicky. Goalie ‘Sugar’ Jim Henry went into the Canadian army while captain of the 1940 Cup-winning Rangers, and Hall of Fame defenseman Art Coulter, joined the U.S. Coast Guard.
By 1944-45, not a single member of the 1941-42 first-place Rangers was left on the roster. Not surprisingly, the Blueshirts had plummeted to last place in 1942-43 and remained there for the duration of the war.
“It was a travesty,” said coach Boucher, who had skated for two New York Cup-winners before retiring in 1938. “We tried to find some acceptable lineup and in desperation, I came out of retirement to try to help. I played 15 games, got four goals and 10 assists and I outscored 19 other players we tried that season. I was 42 years old and hadn’t played a game in five years.”
Lynn, Muzz and all the other Rangers-turned servicemen from that 1941-42 first-place team survived the war. Only one of them, Coulter, retired. But Lynn didn’t get the same message as Coulter did. He wanted his job back, even though Lester adamantly asserted that Lynn’s legs were gone and told his son to forget about a comeback.
That should have been the end of it. After all, when your old man is New York’s boss of all hockey bosses and he says you’re done, you should look for a day job. But Lynn outsmarted the Silver Fox and got back his Blueshirts jersey because the law was on his side. “I was in no shape to play,” Lynn said. “But I was protected by the G.I. Bill of Rights. It guaranteed every returning serviceman his old job back.”
Sure enough, Lester was compelled to put his determined son in the 1945-46 lineup with Muzz, the Colville Brothers and Shibicky, none of whom retained their pre-war sharpness. As author Eric Whitehead wrote in his book, “The Patrick’s: Hockey’s Royal Family,” “The G.I. Bill was a curse on the Rangers’ house.” Despite their good intentions, the returning vets broke any Rangers progress and were so testily derided by the Manhattan media that Boucher convened a meeting with the press. “The G.I. Bill guarantees my players the opportunity and we must give it to them,” Boucher said. “Give them a chance.”
The reporters were understanding, but the club again plumbed to subterranean depths, finishing 10 points out of fifth place and 15 away from a playoff berth.
After the disastrous season, both Patrick brothers retired, as did Shibicky and Neil Colville. Lester couldn’t even wait that long. On Feb. 22, 1946, the Patricks’ patriarch walked through a sleet storm to Madison Square Garden. He took an elevator to the third floor and handed his typed resignation to then Madison Square Garden president John Reed Kilpatrick, who adored the Silver Fox and urged him not to quit. “It’s time I stepped down,” said Lester with finality, then shook hands and walked out.
Lester might have also told Kilpatrick that had it not been for his upstart son and the G.I. Bill of Rights, he would not have been so wronged.