Remembering Bonnie Prince Charlie
By Anthony M
October 5 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Rangers Hall of Fame goalie Chuck Rayner. “Bonnie Prince Charlie” played eight seasons with the Blueshirts (1945-53) after spending his first two years with the Brooklyn Americans. Rayner signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 1945 after the Americans franchise folded.
As a kid I always seemed to be playing hockey with kids who were a couple of years older than me so I always ended up in net – and that started me on my way of always being a fan of goaltenders.
While my all-time favorite Ranger is Eddie Giacomin, I have always been a fan of Ranger history and enjoyed reading the exploits of past Ranger greats, including Rayner – another favorite of mine.
I met Rayner in August 1991 at the NHL Booster Club Convention in Winnipeg as the Jets Booster Club sponsored a gathering that brought together famous hockey players who were born or living in the Winnipeg area.
To this day I can’t figure out who got a bigger kick out of our conversation – me for being able to talk to one of my idols or Chuck because a young fan remembered an “old-timer”.
After a few minutes Chuck said, “Wait a minute, there is someone I want you to meet.” With that, Chuck motioned over his friend – Bill Mosienko, the man who scored the fastest three goals in NHL history. On Feb. 23, 1954 Mosienko scored three in a 21- second span of the third period (6:09, 6:20 and 6:30) as Chicago defeated the Rangers 7-6.
I sheepishly asked for Chuck’s autograph. Rather than sign some old piece of paper, he said he had a better idea. A Canadian company had reprinted hockey cards of NHL legends and Chuck promised to send me an autographed card.
Two weeks later I received two signed Chuck Rayner cards. On that August night, Chuck Rayner turned a 27-year-old man into a little boy again. To this day, those cards are displayed in my office.
Rayner capped his career during the 1949-50 season as he backstopped the Rangers to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals before losing in double overtime to Detroit. Despite winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, Rayner was named a Second Team All-Star for the second of three straight seasons. Montreal’s Bill Durnan beat out Rayner for the second straight season.
Rayner was only the second goaltender ever to win the Hart Trophy. New York Americans Roy “Shrimp” Worters was the NHL MVP in 1929.
The famed “1940” chant could very easily have been “1950”. The Rangers held a three games to two lead in the series and a 4-3 lead in the third period of Game 6 before the Red Wings forced a seventh and deciding game. The Rangers held leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in Game 7 before forced into overtime. They nearly won the game in overtime, but a Nick Mickoski shot rang off the post. Detroit ended the series off a faceoff deep in the Rangers zone. George Gee won the draw back to Pete Babando at the point and his shot from the point beat a screened Rayner at 8:31 of double overtime.
“‘Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that goal,’ Rayner said years later to John Halligan of nhl.com. ‘What a shame that was. Just one goal, and there never would have been a 54-year drought.’”
The Rangers might not have had to worry about protecting those leads if not for the circus. Unlike the days when circus performances are cancelled for Rangers and Knicks games, it was the Rangers who hit the road when the circus was in town. As a result, the Blueshirts played their two “home” games in Toronto.
Babando and Rayner crossed paths almost three years later. In a twist on the old cliché “if you can’t beat them, join them”, the Rangers purchased Babando from Chicago after the Blackhawks acquired him a year later in a nine-player deal. While Babando joined the Rangers in 1953, Rayner’s NHL career was winding down after an injury-plagued 20 games. Rayner’s replacement was rookie Lorne “Gump” Worsley who went on to win the Calder Trophy.
Rayner was a goaltender ahead of his time. In an era when goalies stayed in their creases and played a passive game, the Sutherland, Saskatchewan native played a brand of hockey comparable to today’s strong skating and stickhandling goaltenders.
Rayner’s skating and stickhandling was best exemplified during the time he was playing for a Royal Canadian Armed Forces All-Star team during World War II (1942-1945).
“‘I stopped a shot and the puck bounced straight out,’ he recounted to Richard Goldstein of the NY Times. ‘I skated out to get clear, found myself alone and went the rest of the way. When I got about 15 feet from the other goal, I shot and scored.’”
Roaming the ice was not the only way Rayner was ahead of his time. During his time in the NHL, it was a rarity that teams carried two goaltenders never mind playing two goaltenders. When Rayner signed with the Rangers, he spent the first three seasons of his tenure alternating with “Sugar” Jim Henry. Coach Frank Boucher took the idea of alternating his goaltenders to a new level because he even alternated his goaltenders during games – much like other coaches changed their lines during games.
Eventually, Boucher settled on Rayner as his full-time goaltender in 1948 after trading Henry to the Chicago Blackhawks for left winger Alex Kaleta and a backup goaltender named Emile “The Cat” Francis.
Just to show how small a world it really is, Henry was one of the nine players involved in the deal that sent Babando from Detroit to Chicago.
Rayner retired in 1956 and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973. Rayner’s 123 regular season wins place him seventh on the Rangers all time list and his 24 regular season shutouts place him in a three-way tie for fifth in franchise history.