On March 29 in NYR history: The greatness of Brian Leetch

Brian Leetch #2 of the New York Rangers controls the puck. Credit: Kent Smith /Allsport
Brian Leetch #2 of the New York Rangers controls the puck. Credit: Kent Smith /Allsport /

What happened on March 29 in the history of the New York Rangers

On this date in 1989 Brian Leetch set an NHL record that still stands. He scored the 23rd goal of his rookie season, passing Barry Beck for the most goals ever scored by a rookie defenseman in NHL history.

The goal came 5:44 into the third period of a 4-3 loss to the Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena.   It was the 78th game of an 80 game season and Leetch’s goal came on assists from Kelly Kisio and Michel Petit.

Since Leetch’s record setting campaign, only one NHL rookie defenseman has scored as many as 20 goals.  That was Dion Phaneuf in 2005-06.  The previous record had belonged to Barry Beck who scored 22 goals as a rookie for the Colorado Rockies in 1977-78.

Ironically, Leetch would never surpass that season total of 23 goals in his career, though he equaled it in 1993-94.

The last for the Great One

On this date in 1999, Wayne Gretzky scored the 894th and last goal of his amazing career.  Appropriately, it was the game winning goal in a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

It wasn’t a pretty goal.  Gretzky had gotten the puck after an Islander turnover in their own zone and had taken the shot that was blocked by Islander goalie Wade Flaherty.  Gretzky got to the rebound and was able to just poke it over the goal line.  Wayne Gretzky’s final goal was unassisted. It was all him.

This didn’t go into the record books, but it was also the 1,702nd goal of his career including the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the WHA.  It was one more than the total number of goals scored by Gretzky’s idol, Gordie Howe.

Gretzky would not score a goal in the last eight games of the season, finishing with only nine goals in his final campaign.  It’s almost as if he knew he needed to pass Howe with that one goal and once he did it, he was finished.

The first Stanley Cup Final Loss

On this date in 1929, the Rangers lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins.  The Blueshirts were the defending Stanley Cup champions having won in 1928.   In those days teams the playoffs were best-of-three series and Boston won the first two games. It was the first Final series between two teams based in the United States.

The Rangers had gotten to the Final by beating the New York Americans in the Quarter-Finals and the Maple Leafs in the Semi-Finals.

Good-bye Hartford

Connecticut was once the home of an NHL team and on this date in 1997,  the Rangers played their last game against the Whalers in Hartford, losing 2-1.  After the 1996-97 campaign, the Whalers relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina as the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Whalers were one of the WHA teams that merged with the NHL in 1979 and they played 18 years in the NHL.

The Rangers played 28 games at the Hartford Civic Center, with a record of 9-16-3.  They did win the one game that they played in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1979 when the Hartford arena was closed due to a roof collapse because of snow.

An overdue double digit win

On March 29, 1967 the Rangers beat the Detroit Red Wings 10-5 at Madison Square Garden.  It was only the fourth time the Blueshirts had scored in double digits in franchise history and was one off the club record of 11 goals.  It was also the first time in 15 years that the Rangers had done it.

The Rangers have scored 10 or more goals in a game 17 times in the regular season and once in the playoffs

Today’s birthdays

31 NHL players have been born on March 29 with seven former Rangers in the list.

Brett Howden was born on this date in 1998 in Calgary, Alberta.  Now with the Vegas Golden Knights, Howden was acquired in the big deadline deal in 2018 from the Tampa Bay Lightning where he had been a first round draft pick.  After scoring 16 goals in 178 games in three seasons and in risk of being lost in the expansion draft, Howden was traded to Vegas for a draft pick.

Hardy Astrom was born on this date in 1951 in Skelleftea, Sweden.  He bears the distinction of being the first Swedish goalie to play for the Rangers and he was the second European born and trained goaltender to play in the NHL after Goran Hogosta of the Islanders. Astrom played four games with the Rangers in 1978 with a 2-2 record and he finished his NHL career with the Rockies.

Jerry Byers was a left winger who played seven games for the Rangers in 1977-78.  He was born on this date in 1952 in Kentville, Nova Scotia.  A first round draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars, the Rangers got him from Atlanta in a trade for goalie Curt Ridley.  He scored two goals that season, but never made it out of the AHL after that.

Brandon Halverson was born on this date in 1996 in Traverse City,Michigan. A goalie, he was a highly regarded second round draft pick by the Rangers and he made his  debut in 2017-18, appearing in one game in 2017-18  in relief of Henrik Lundqvist.   Supplanted by Alexandar Georgiev on the Rangers goalie depth chart, Halverson was not offered a contract and he has been playing in the minor leagues ever since.

Hartland Monahan was born on this date in 1951 in Montreal, Quebec. The right winger played only six games in New York after being acquired in a trade from the California Golden Seals. He was taken by the Washington Capitals in the 1975 expansion draft and went on to play six more seasons in the NHL.

Dunc McCallum was a defenseman born on this date in 1940 in Flin Flon, Manitoba.  He played two games for the Rangers in the 1965-66 season. He played four years in Pittsburgh before finishing his career in the WHA.

Duane Rupp was born on this date in 1938 in MacNutt, Saskatchewan.  A defenseman, Rupp played two games for the Rangers in 1962 and was traded to Toronto for Lou Angotti in 1964.  He was Toronto’s representative at the1968 NHL All-Star Game.

The numbers

Games: 21
Regulation wins: 15
Regulation losses: 7
Ties: 1
Points percentage: .643

Playoffs games: 8
Wins: 3
Losses: 5
Winning percentage: 37.5%

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