The NY Rangers. with growing animosity, look to eliminate the Montreal Canadians and move on to the Stanley Cup finals. It is easy to overlook the French-Canadian players, many growing up as fans of “Les Habs,” who past and present have been integral to the Rangers’ success. (I can’t imagine, if the dream had ever come true, of playing in the NHL for a team other than the Rangers.)
One can peruse the all-time list of NY Ranger players to see it dotted with several born in Quebec Province. Many are mere footnotes to history, but there are a few very important ones, and history is now being written anew. I’m not talking about the late in their career hires such as Marcel Dionne, Guy Lafleur, Luc Robitaille, or Pierre Larouche. None of these players managed anything close to their successes with former teams. Robitaille, in fact, achieved a career lowlight with the Rangers in 1995-1996 earning more penalty minutes (80) than points (69). Of all the French Canadians to have played for the Rangers, the most popular and successful was Rod Gilbert.
Born in Montreal in 1941, Gilbert was a scoring machine, and a matinee idol. He embraced New York just as much as it did him, and still does. Gilbert became a New Yorker. Maybe this is possible in part because the two cities, New York and Montreal, are arguably the most cosmopolitan on the eastern seaboard, and their rich cultures sometimes overlap featuring much to admire and enjoy. Gilbert, whose name pronunciation was never Americanized to a hard “G” in New York, (we can deal with international names!) was flanked by two other impressive French-Canadians: Jean Ratelle and Ed Giacomin‘s back up, Gilles Villemure. That early 1970s team came close to winning it all. The 2013-2014 Rangers are also coming close. How close is anybody’s guess. But with the work of our latest bumper crop of French Canadians, winning just once more against, their likely hometown favorite team, the Montreal Canadians, will have them competing for the Stanley Cup in the finals.
Though it appears that Martin St. Louis heads this list, certainly with his overtime heroics in game four, one can’t underestimate the impact of Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot, (their line: “Zuc’s Habs”) and of course our now beloved first year coach, Alain Vigneault. With just five more victories, these heroes in the making, will undoubtedly be invited to join Gilbert as heart and soul New Yorkers, further sealing our French-Canadian connection.