On February 15 in NYR history: Gretzky show his greatness

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 19: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the New York Rangers skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL game action on December 19, 1998 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 19: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the New York Rangers skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL game action on December 19, 1998 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /

What happened on February 15 in the history of the New York Rangers

The New York Rangers are famous for acquiring superstars way past their prime.  They come to New York and while they may play well, they never achieve the heights that they reached before. Brendan Shanahan,  Marcel Dionne, Martin St. Louis and Guy Lafleur are just a few of the names.  In fact, eight of the top 14 goal scorers in the history of the NHL suited up for New York.

But on this date in 1999 we were able to see a bit of the past glory of the greatest of them all, Wayne Gretzky.  The Rangers were playing in Nashville in what would be Gretzky’s only visit to The Music City.  The Rangers won 7-4 and the Great One notched five assists, tying the franchise record held by Walt Tkaczuk, Brian Leetch, Don Maloney and Rod Gilbert and equaled last season by Adam Fox.

Never mind that Gretzky held the NHL record of seven assists in a game and had done that three times. Never mind that this was the 17th time he had gotten as many as five assists in a game.  This time though,  he did it as a New York Ranger at the ripe old age of 38.

It was the last time that he had five assists in a game, in fact, it was the last time he had five points in  game. He had only one goal and six assists in the next 16 games, reinforcing his decision to retire.

Fans forget that in his first two seasons as a Ranger he led the league in assists, the last time aged 37.   There’s a reason he had the nickname.

Oh yes, one more thing.  With the five assists he moved 1,000 points ahead of his idol, Gordie Howe who was second all time in scoring at the time.

Late train

When NHL teams traveled by train, they often cut it close, arriving just a few hours before game time. On this date in 1945, the Rangers were traveling back to New York from Detroit, due to arrive at Grand Central Terminal at 5:30pm.  They actually arrived at 10:30pm and miraculously were on the ice ready to play just 20 minutes later.

The Rangers beat the Black Hawks 6-2 in a game that started two hours, 20 minutes late.  They finished at 12:50am and most of the crowd of 10,621 that came, stuck around with only 100 asking for a refund.

To keep the fans entertained, the Garden put on an impromptu game between the Sands Point Tigers and the Jamaica Hawks of the Metropolitan Amateur Hockey League.  It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening these days.

Hello Minnesota

On this date in 1968, the Rangers played their first game in that hockey hotbed, the state of Minnesota.  They played the expansion Minnesota North Stars at their brand new Metropolitan Sports Center, later just called the Met Center.

The Rangers won 6-2 behind the 27 save performance of Ed Giacomin. The line of Camille Henry, Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle tallied four goals and 12 points on the night.

Today’s birthdays

There were 32 players born on February 15, including one of the greatest scorers in NHL history and the greatest scorer in Rangers’ franchise history.

Jaromir Jagr was born on this date in 1972 in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. He is still playing in Europe at age 49 and is the the second greatest scorer in NHL history, despite leaving the NHL to play three years in Russia.

Jagr had three glorious years in New York when he set franchise marks for goals and points in one season, while winning the Ted Lindsay Award.  Most important, he took a Ranger team that had missed the playoffs for seven seasons, back into the postseason.   Glen Sather let him leave for the KHL in 2009, one of the worst moves of the GM’s tenure.

Tony McKegney was a left winger who was born on this date in 1958 in Montreal, Quebec. He was the first black player to skate for the Rangers, playing 64 games in 1986-87 after being acquired from the Minnesota North Stars.  He scored 29 goals and was traded to the Blues after the season for another February 15 birthday boy, Bruce Bell.  McKegney played 13 years in the NHL for seven different teams, scoring 320 goals.

Bruce Bell was born on this date in 1965 in Toronto, Ontario.  A defenseman, played 13 games in 1987-88 for the Rangers, spending most of the season in the AHL.   He had been acquired from the Blues in a trade for Tony McKegney, also born on this date. After the season he was traded to Quebec.

Ronald Petrovicky was born on this date in 1977 in Zilina, Czechoslovakia.  The Rangers claimed him in the waiver draft in 2002 and he played one season in New York, scoring five goals and 14 points in 65 games. The right winger was claimed on waivers by the Atlanta Thrashers.  He was last seen coaching the Slovakian team at the World Junior Championships last month.

Chuck Scherza  was born on this date in 1923 in Brandon, Manitoba.  The forward was a Ranger for part  of two seasons, playing 27 games in the war years 1943-45.  He is best known for his play in the AHL where he won the Calder Cup in 1949 with Providence.

The numbers

The Rangers have played 42 games on February 15 with a plus .500 record. They’ve never won or lost a game that went to overtime on this date.

Games: 42
Regulation wins: 21
Regulation losses: 16
Ties: 5
Points percentage: .559

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