Former Rangers captain says late coach who wore tracksuit during games was ‘colorful character’

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

That the New York Rangers’ 1977-78 season is best remembered for their coach wearing a tracksuit during games behind the bench tells you all you need to know about how things went that year.

And it makes Dave Maloney chuckle to this day.

“We were a team in transition and there was a real chasm between the young guys and old guys,” Maloney told Forever Blueshirts. “But our coach, Jean-Guy Talbot, he was a real colorful character.”

Indeed, he was.

Talbot died last week at 91. He was a respected seven-time Stanley Cup champion as a defenseman with the Montreal Canadiens in his playing days and coached one season with the Rangers, guiding them to a 30-37-13 record in 1977-78.

That was a fairly nondescript season except for Talbot’s decision to do away with a suit and tie behind the bench and instead wear a tracksuit and turtleneck. True, it was the 1970’s and most anything went, but in conservative hockey circles, Talbot’s attire drew more attention than the inconsistent play of his team.

“I was a young guy (21) then, so it wasn’t a big deal to me. I mean why should the guy ruin good suits? Just put on the tracksuits, as they called them then. Made sense to me,” Maloney said with a laugh.

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Jean-Guy Talbot remembered as ‘colorful character’ in one season as Rangers coach

Despite referring to the late coach as a “colorful character” several times when sharing his memories with Forever Blueshirts, Maloney said that Talbot struggled in his position, in part, because he was overshadowed by general manager John Ferguson, who had also coached the team the previous season.

“‘Fergy’ was the bigger presence, so it was difficult for Jean-Guy, who tried to assert himself under a bigger personality, and couldn’t,” Maloney explained. “At the end of the day, everybody knew who the boss was, and it was Fergy not Jean-Guy.

“Of course that’s from the perspective of a 21-year-old and the memory of a 67-year-old!”

One thing Maloney, now the long-time radio analyst for the Rangers, remembers about 1977-78 is the divide between veterans and talented young players. And how Talbot struggled to bring the two sides together.

“Talbot had played against a lot of those guys, like [Phil Esposito], Rod [Gilbert], [Ken] Hodge, all of those guys. So, it wasn’t easy for him to coach them,” Maloney explained. “Plus Fergy absolutely loved us young guys. But there were two generations on that club and we weren’t very good. It was a struggle for Jean-Guy.”

That budding young core included Maloney and fellow defensemen Mike McEwen, Mario Marois, Dave Farrish and the greybeard of the group, Ron Greschner, who was 23. There was also terrific young talent up front with Don Murdoch, Pat Hickey and Eddie Johnstone.

Despite finishing last in the Patrick Division in 1977-78, the Rangers made the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the last day of that season.

“Yeah, it was like we won the Stanley Cup when we made the playoffs,” Maloney chuckled.

Talbot was fired after the season and replaced by Fred Shero, the two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers reached the 1979 Stanley Cup Final, with Maloney serving as captain, losing in five games to the Montreal Canadiens.

So, 1977-78 under Talbot, was indeed a transition season.

“That one season was a tough one for Jean-Guy, but it was the start of good things to come.”

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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