Every New York Rangers fan should read this book

“Pucks on Pages” is back with another great read for New York Rangers fans.

Blue Line Station is looking at one New York Rangers book every week leading up to the qualifying round of the playoffs that are scheduled to begin sometime in August and include a best-of-five qualifying round between the Blueshirts and the Carolina Hurricanes.

This is the second piece of the series. Last week, we presented We are the Rangers by “The Hockey Maven,” Stan Fischler. This week, we’ll feature The Rangers by Brian McFarlane.

For those unfamiliar with McFarlane or his work, think of him as Canada’s version of Fischler. Widely considered Canada’s preeminent hockey historian, MacFarlane has been a player, writer, and broadcaster of the game for over 50 years.

McFarlane has written close to 100 books, including a 1999 series documenting the rich history of each Original Six team. He became the first Canadian to work on United States hockey telecasts when in 1960 he was hired by CBS and conducted most of his interviews on skates! (He later also appeared on NBC.) However, he’s best known as a commentator for “Hockey Night in Canada” from 1964 through 1991.

A few more interesting facts about the Ontario-born McFarlane:

  • He never skated in the NHL, but he did play at St. Lawrence University for four years after receiving a scholarship for hockey. When he graduated in 1955, he was (and remains) the school’s all-time leader in goals with 101 and named an All American.
  • He was inducted into the media section of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.
  • In the early 1980s, he was banned from the broadcast booth in Maple Leaf Gardens by owner Harold Ballard after taking sides with Toronto captain (and future Hall of Famer) Darryl Sittler in a feud with Ballard.
  • His mother, Leslie McFarlane, authored the first 23 books in the Hardy Boys series.

The Rangers

Publisher/Year: Stoddart, 1999

How to get a copy: https://www.amazon.com/Rangers-Brian-McFarlanes-Original-Six/dp/0773730478

Synopsis: McFarlane does a masterful job of documenting the New York Rangers from their inception to the Neil Smith era. The book’s reader-friendly format has six sections, each comprised of brief and compelling passages. Readers short on free time can skip to passages of their choice for a quick and fun read.

Here’s a look at each of the six sections and my favorite passages:

1. The Lester Patrick Years (22 passages): Major League Baseball was rocked by the “Black Sox Scandal” in 1919 when Chicago White Sox players threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. But the NHL wasn’t immune to gambling scandals, either. Former Rangers’ center Billy Taylor received a lifetime ban in 1949 by NHL President Clarence Campbell for associating with Detroit gambler James Tamer. McFarlane notes that Tamer got word from Boston Bruins’ center Tom Gallinger that the B’s were banged up heading into their match against the Chicago Black Hawks. Tamer relayed that info to Taylor, who bet $500 on Chicago to win. When Campbell got word of it all after Tamer’s arrest, he issued lifetime suspension to Gallinger, as well. Worse for Taylor? Boston, without injured star Milt Schmidt, still beat Chicago. Just three years earlier, Rangers’ defenseman Babe Pratt was caught wagering on NHL games. He got off lucky. Campbell wasn’t yet the league’s president, Frank Calder was, and he gave Pratt just 16 games.

2. The Frank Boucher Era (14 passages): The most-compelling passage details how poorly the Rangers treated a teenaged Gordie Howe during the team’s training camp in Winnipeg. Howe was homesick and his “teammates” did nothing to help. They relentlessly teased him about his youth, wisecracking about him getting his “homework done” and going to the bar for a “milkshake.” In less than a week, McFarlane notes, the Rangers put Howe on a train back to his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Years later, when Howe was considered the greatest player in the game and winning Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, McFarlane says a Ranger scout lamented not providing Howe with a mentor during his training camp.

3. The Muzz Patrick Era (12 passages): Lots of good stuff here. Defenseman Bill Gadsby spent seven prime seasons of his twenty-year Hall of Fame career with New York, earning four all-star selections and finishing in second in voting for the Norris Trophy thrice. However, he nearly died at age 12 when the Canada-bound ship he was on with his mom was sunk by a German torpedo off the Irish coast shortly after World War II began. Both Bill and mom squeezed into a lifeboat and were rescued by another ship. Other treats in this section include tales about Eddie Shack, Gump Worsley, Andy Bathgate, and “Leapin’” Lou Fontinato.

4. The Emile Francis Era (18 passages): Treasures here include: “The Cat” having punched a Rangers fan, who later sued him and the team; Rod Gilbert’s claim that he died on the operating table during his second back surgery and had a “mystical out-of-body” experience; Terry Sawchuk’s tragic death; Eddie Giacomin’s emotional return to Madison Square Garden; Phil Esposito’s love of Boston and hatred of New York; Dale Rolfe’s bitterness; plus critiques of the Blueshirts by Ken Dryden and, of all players, Dennis Potvin.

5. The Ferguson, Shero, Patrick and Esposito Era (11 passages): Readers can revisit the highs and lows of Don Murdoch, the odd nature of Fred “The Fog” Shero, and players like J.D., Pierre Larouche, Mark Pavelich, Guy Lafleur, and Staten Island’s Nick Fotiu. Also highlighted are clashes between Ron Duguay and coach Herb Brooks, as well as Phil Esposito, the general manager, and his coach Michel Bergeron.

6. The Neil Smith Era (12 passages): As you might guess, this section recalls the journey that started with Smith’s hiring on June 17, 1989, and was highlighted by the team’s winning the Stanley Cup in 1994 and the signing of Wayne Gretzky. There’s even a cool passage highlighting how Smith’s mom, Margaret, was a top player for Canada’s women’s team in the 1930s and taught Neil how to skate and play.

Quotable:

  •  “I thought I’d seen some lousy goaltending during my career, but all of the sieves I’d seen were aces compared to (Steve) Buzinski. …Steve was a beautiful little guy. He was earnest and sincere and we all liked him tremendously. There was just one little problem. He couldn’t stop a puck worth a damn.” — Rangers coach Frank Boucher on Steve Buzinski, a 140-pound goalie who played nine games in 1942-43 (wartime), posting a 2-6-1 record and 5.89 goals-against average, thus earning the nickname “Puck Goes Inski.”
  • “The Rangers.” — Rangers goalie Gump Worsley when asked which team gave him the most trouble. Worsley played very well for some dreadful Blueshirts squads.
  • “I remember that nobody from the Rangers stepped in to help me. Nobody. I’ll never forget that.” — Rangers defenseman Dale Rolfe, pummeled by Philadelphia Flyers’ pugilist Dave Schultz in Game Seven of the 1974 Stanley Cup Semifinals while his Rangers’ teammates stood by and watched. … SIDEBAR: In a 2012 e-mail to the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks, Brad Park, among the Rangers on the ice during Rolfe’s beating, wrote: “Let’s get it straight once and for all. We did not meekly stand by; we were forced to stand by. It was Game 7, (the NHL) had brought the third-man-in rule, so someone would have gotten thrown out of the game (with a game misconduct for intervening), so who did you want to want to lose; Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, or myself? I did (finally) decide to go, but Dale looked me in the eye and said to stay out of it. Sorry you weren’t on the ice to hear it.” Rolfe was not quoted in Brooks’ account. However, McFarlane noted what Park said shortly after the series: “It isn’t worth it if you have to maim somebody to win a game or the Stanley Cup. It’s a game. It’s a sport. It’s entertainment. It’s not World War Three.”
  • “The Rangers are a strange team. …Unlike the championship teams I’ve seen, they don’t have individuals who’ll peak during a playoff series — play at a higher level than usual, get inspired or whatever.” — Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Ken Dryden’s critique of the Rangers in the mid-1970s. In 1979, Dryden and the Habs defeated the Blueshirts in the Stanley Cup Finals, four games to one.
  • “The typical Ranger seemed to be a skater who lacked drive, who missed the extra step necessary for victory. Everybody on that club seemed to diddle-daddle a lot and become depressed easily if the puck didn’t bounce their way.” — New York Islanders’ defenseman Dennis Potvin. The quote was borrowed by McFarlane from Potvin’s book Power on Ice.
  • “The guy should never have to buy another drink for the rest of his life.” — then-Calgary Flames’ forward Theo Fleury on Rangers’ goalie Mike Richter, who backstopped Team USA to victory over Fleury and Team Canada in the 1996 World Cup championship.
  • “He talked to us for about 15 minutes. It was the most intense, most emotional speech I’ve ever heard. He seized the moment. He took control of the situation. He came through when we needed him most.” — Rangers’ captain Mark Messier on Mike Keenan’s pregame pep talk before Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Let’s hear from you

If you’ve already read The Rangers, Blue Line Station invites you to share your thoughts in the comments section. If you haven’t, feel free to suggest titles you’d like to see featured in “Pucks on Pages.”