April 1 in NYR history: No joke, Bergeron fired

Phil Esposito of the New York Rangers watches the play during NHL game (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
Phil Esposito of the New York Rangers watches the play during NHL game (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /

What happened on April 1 in the history of the New York Rangers

April Fools’ Day 1989 was the appropriate date for the firing of Coach Michel Bergeron by New York Rangers General Manager Phil Esposito.  It was the second time in three years that Esposito had fired a coach and had taken over behind the bench, but this was the craziest.

Bergeron was in his second season as Rangers coach.  They had signed him away from the Quebec Nordiques, giving up cash and a first round draft pick to do it.  Bergeron had enormous success in Quebec, taking the team to the playoffs every season for seven years.  in his first year in New York, the Rangers missed the playoffs on the last day of the season.  It was their first time they didn’t make the postseason in 11 years.

In 1988-89, the team was definitely headed to the playoffs and had actually occupied first place in the Patrick Division for 79 days.  However, they faltered after the All-Star break and Esposito had contemplated replacing Bergeron since January. He finally pulled he trigger with two games left in the season and took over behind the bench.

The rift was personal, not because of Bergeron’s record.  Bergeron had been upset that Esposito questioned some of his coaching strategies in the press . Esposito was angry that Bergeron had asked for a five year contract extension and had called his players “scared” after a loss.

Bergeron was shocked by the firing as was many of the players who were divided in their support for the coach.  Esposito led the team into the playoffs, losing the last two regular season games and then getting swept in four games by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The revolving door that started with the hiring of Esposito the summer of 1986  ended on May 24 when he was fired by the Madison Square Garden Corporation.

In his three years as GM, Esposito  had fired coaches Ted Sator and Bergeron and had two stints as coach replacing Tom Webster for health reasons and after Bergeron was let go   In his three years running the teams, they missed the playoffs one year and went out in the first round the other two.  He also made 43 trades involving 99 players and 30 draft picks

Broadway Bernie’s big  split season

On this date in 1990, Bernie Nicholls assisted on both Rangers goals in a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals.  It gave hims 112 points for the season, the most ever recorded in a season by one player for two teams.   Nicholls had been acquired in January from the Los Angeles Kings and he finished the season with 12 goals and 25 assists for 37 points in 32 games in New York.

Jean Ratelle had been the only NHL player to tally over 100  points in a season in which he was traded when he had 105 points for the Rangers and Bruins in 1976.  Nicholls’ record held until the 2005-06 season when Joe Thornton scored 125 points the season he was traded from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks.

Hello Texas

On this date in 1994, the Rangers hosted a team from Texas for the first time in their history.  The Dallas Stars played their first game at Madison Square Garden.  It was a 3-0 win for the Rangers with Mike Richter in net for the shutout.

Today’s birthdays

26 NHL players have endured being born on April Fools’ Day with four who have played for the New York Rangers.

Reijo Ruotsalainen was born on this date in 1960 in Oulu, Finland.  A sixth round draft pick in 1980, the Finnish defenseman made his debut in New York in 1981 and dazzled Rangers fans for five years with his speed and scoring.  His 28 goals in 1984-85 is the most ever scored by a defenseman in club history.  He is one of a handful of Rangers blueliners to have scored a hat trick.

The first Finnish defenseman to play for the Rangers, he was a perfect addition to the Herb Brooks coached “Smurfs” teams of the early 1980s.  After leaving the Rangers he won two Stanley Cups by becoming a hockey mercenary, playing most of the season in Europe and joining the Edmonton Oilers for the end of the season and playoffs,

Guy Trottier was born on this date in 1941 in Hull, Quebec and will go down in Blueshirts history as the “wrong ” Trottier. The Rangers bought his contract from Buffalo of the AHL in 1968 he played two games in New York before going to Toronto in the Intra-League draft.  Th right winger later signed in the WHA and had some productive seasons there.  No, he is not related the “right” Trottier, Bryan of the Islanders.

Jason MacDonald was born on this date in 1974 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  He was a right winger who had a ten year career in the minor leagues, but made it to the NHL in 2003-04 for four games with the Rangers.

Hib Milks was a forward born in 1899 in Eardley, Quebec.  He played six years for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Quakers scoring as many as 18 goals twice.  When he Quakers folded in 1931 he was claimed by the Rangers in the Dispersal Draft and he played 48 games in New York, with no goals and four assists.  In case you were wondering, the name Hib was short for Hibbert.

The numbers

The Rangers haven’t played a lot of games on April 1, but there playoff record is excellent with five wins in six games.

Games: 26
Regulation wins: 10
Regulation losses: 10
Ties: 6
Points percentage: .500

Playoffs games: 6
Wins: 5
Losses: 1
Winning percentage: 83%

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