For those of you who are a little older, I wonder if your experience with sports heroes is the same as mine: the players who I watched when I was a child still stand today in my mind as giants of the game, even if they never won a championship. When names like Bobby Rousseau, Walter Tkaczuk, Rod Gilbert, and Billy Fairbairn are raised, I feel awe, as if I am thinking of gods. Such is the warped vision of youth.
So, I present here some faded memories of my oldest experiences with hockey; some of these may be remembered incorrectly; most are just snapshots, with little narrative around them.
First, some quick background: Westchester County did not get cable TV until the early 80’s. In Mt. Pleasant, the company was “McClain Cable”. Thus, I never saw a Rangers home game on TV until about 1981, except for the very rare game shown from the Garden on National TV.
So, with your permission, let me commence:
1. I listened to home games on my small, white spherical transistor radio, about four inches in diameter. I am pretty sure I was listening when Don Murdoch scored his five goals against the Minnesota North Stars. Is there not any film of this game extent at all?
2. The Russians were not the only Communist team to tour the US during the Cold War. The Czechs also paid a visit to these shores. My pop took me to see them play the Rangers at the Garden. If I remember correctly, Dave Maloney scored a late goal to tie the game at 2-2. I remember cheering my patriotic head off.
3. Why do I remember this? The old, rotten Kansas City Scouts were visiting. The Rangers trailed 1-0 going onto the third. What a disaster this would have been to lose to this lowly so-called NHL franchise. I listened on my little radio as the Rangers came back to win, 2-1, with the game winner being scored by Billy Fairbairn, on his birthday!
4. The Rangers in the 70’s used to practice in Elmsford, as they do now; except that back then it was at the old twin rinks in 9A, where the Bloomingdale’s Furniture Outlet is now. A couple of times a year they would hold an “open practice”, which fans could attend. My pop took me to several of these. After the practice, the players would come out and sign autographs. I never remember any of the players as being anything but kindly and patiently doing so. The Maloney brothers, Greg Polis, Nick Fotiu – somewhere in my attic I have a pretty impressive collection of these great guys’ autographs. Does anyone else remember the names Troy, Newman and Deblois?
5. In 1979, there was an uproar, because none the Rangers-Islanders playoff games could be seen without cable. So my dad sent a letter to Channel 9, demanding that they show at least some of the games. As if they had any control!
6. The great Ron Greschner dipsy-doodling his way through all 5 opponents, always at what seemed like slow-motion. Gilles Marotte, the last great hip-checker in the NHL. Peter Puck, Jim McFarland and Bobby Ryan. Or is that Bobby McFarland and Jim Ryan? No, I was right the first time. (Editor’s note: I think it was Brian McFarlane and Tim Ryan).
7. To me, Marv Albert will always be remembered primarily as the voice of the Rangers, carrying over the airwaves with Sal Messina on WNEW-AM 1130. Jim Gordon was a broadcasting god. I would love to see MSG Vault rebroadcast the 11-6 victory over Hartford, in which Mark Pavelich scored five goals. I can still hear Jim Gordon commenting that four goals “is a lot for any player,” just moments before a face-off to the right of the Hartford goalie, seconds before Pavelich scored his dramatic fifth.
8. The terrible fear I had whenever we had to play the Canadiens, and the ridiculously speedy Yvon Cournoyer in particular. Guy Lafleur streaking down the right side for the Rangers, his hair (at one time his own) flowing backward in the wind, blasting the occasional 65-foot slapshot past some helpless goalie, late in his career.
9. No NHL games on Friday or Monday in the 70’s. Rangers always away on Saturdays (TV, WWOR Channel 9), home on Sundays at 7:30 pm.
10. The Tkaczuk-Fairbairn-Vickers line. I remember watching Walt Tkaczuk take a deflected puck in the eye. He left the game, never ever to return – it was his last moment in the NHL.
11. I remember that in the 70’s, the Rangers had a weird penchant for never getting shut-out. They also never never lost to the St. Louis Blues at home. I think we beat them 632 straight times.
12. When the Rangers were mentioned in the NHL record books, it was primarily as the whipping boy of other teams’ good records (example: three Chicago goals by Bill M. in 21 seconds). One exception: I remember Rod Gilbert at one time had the NHL record for most shots on goal in a game, at 16, versus Montreal.
13. I loved the NY Arrows indoor soccer team. Even though Long Island was their home, they played the occasional game at the Garden, and I went to see them there a couple of times. Anybody else get chills when they hear the names Bronco Segota, Julie Veee, Val Tuksa, Renato Chila, and of course Steeeeeve Zunnnnnngellllll?
14. Whenever Rod Gilbert makes one of his appearance on MSG Vault, you can really see and hear the pain in his face and voice when he discusses the failure of his old Rangers to win the Cup. Does he still think about it at some point every day? And is it just me, or has Jean Ratelle disappeared from the face of the earth?
I realize this list is pretty random, but I get goosebumps when I see the clips of the Rangers from the early and mid 70’s, so you will excuse I hope the ramblings of a 47-year Rangers fan. Thank you for your kind attention.