The Rangers First American Goaltender
By George E. Grimm
Pop Quiz time: Quick, who was the Rangers’ first American born goaltender?
Fans of a certain age might guess 1960 Olympian Jack McCartan. That would be a good guess but it would also be wrong. McCartan played his first game as a Ranger on March 6, 1960, but Joe Schaefer made his Rangers debut on Feb. 17, 1960.
Joe who? Exactly!
Schaefer, a Long Island native, managed an office supply company and worked part time at Madison Square Garden as the Rangers practice goalie, statistician, penalty-clock timekeeper and goal judge. It seemed that whatever the Rangers needed, Joe was willing to do it. If they had asked him to clean the ice and play the organ he probably would have given it a try. Joe also became the Garden’s emergency goaltender.
In the years before the NHL ruled that teams had to dress two goaltenders (1965) for a game, each home team was required to have an emergency goaltender in the stands to be used if either teams’ netminder was hurt and could not continue to play in the game. The Canadian teams usually had a promising junior netminder sitting in the stands as their ‘”house” goalie, but in the states the teams had to do the best they could with what was available. Detroit’s trainer Lefty Wilson saw action in three games, but only once with the Red Wings when he replaced Terry Sawchuk. In the other two appearances he had to face his own team when he took over for Harry Lumley of Toronto and Don Simmons of Boston. Yes the NHL was a much different world back then.
Schaefer was first called to duty on the night of Feb. 17, 1960 when in the first minute of the second period, Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks accidentally skated over Gump Worsley’s stick hand. Hull’s skates ripped through Gump’s glove and tore tendons in his hand
The game was delayed for 23 minutes as the 35-year-old Schaefer, whose experience was limited to playing goal for the Sands Point Tigers of the amateur Metropolitan Hockey League and a few games in the minors, raced down to the Rangers dressing room to get ready to take Worsley’s place. The Rangers held a 1-0 lead when Schaefer, 5-foot-8 165 pounds, entered the game. Facing Hull and the rest of the hard shooting Hawks, Joe made 17 saves but ended up losing the game 5-1. The New York Times reported that ”Schaefer had little to offer except courage.”
Joe made his second emergency appearance on March 8, 1961, Once again, Gump Worsley was the injured netminder and Bobby Hull was the culprit. With the score tied at 1 midway through the first period, Worsley tore a thigh muscle while attempting to stop Hull’s wrist shot. As Schaefer made his way to the dressing room, the Gumper was being carried off the ice on a stretcher.
Schaefer made 27 saves but the Rangers lost 4-3. However one Hawks goal deflected off a Rangers defenseman and another came on a 2-on-1 breakaway.
Each game appearance put Schaefer in a rather unique situation. From a performance standpoint he was severely overmatched and could only perform to the best of his abilities. Basically he was there so that the game could continue, no one really expected game-saving stops from him. It was also a bit of a financial windfall for Schaefer who earned $100 for each game he played, a hefty raise over the $10 a game he made as an off-ice official. He also had quite a story to tell the next day at the office.
Joe also played a small part in NHL history on the night of Nov. 1, 1959 when Andy Bathgate’s wrist shot caught Montreal’s Jacques Plante in the face and forced him to leave the game for repairs. Plante told coach Toe Blake that he wouldn’t return to the game unless he was allowed to wear his mask. No other netminder had ever worn a mask in an NHL game and Blake was against it. But faced with the choice of using Schaefer or a 33-year-old usher named Arnie Nocks (who also served as a Rangers practice goalie and later went on the direct the “Soupy Sales Show”) or letting Plante wear the mask. Blake chose Plante and hockey history was made.
After his second Rangers appearance, Joe was never again called upon to suit up for a game. He continued as a statistician until 1986 when he retired and moved to South Carolina. His final Rangers stats are 2 games played (86 minutes) 6 goals against with a 5.58 goals against average and an 0-2-0 record.
Joe Schaefer passed away in December of 2000 at the age of 76.
For the record, in addition to Schaefer, the Rangers have used seven other US born netminders: Steve Baker, Mike Dunham, Guy Hebert, Jack McCartan, Scott Meyer, Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck.