The Golden Era of New York Rangers Hockey
On February 10th, the New York Rangers will honor the 1994 Stanley Cup Champions with a pregame ceremony before their Original Six match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s hard to believe that it will be a quarter-of-a-century since that magical Spring in which Mark Messier, as he said he would, led his team to the Promised Land. It’s equally hard to believe that the Rangers have not won any championships since. They did come close in 2014, but fell just short to the Los Angeles Kings in the Finals.
As glorious and as meaningful and as fulfilling as 1994 was, the fact of the matter is, it has been 25 years since we Rangers fans felt that unbridled euphoria of watching our team accept the Stanley Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman. An even more sobering reality is the Rangers have just that one championship in going on 80 years. The Rangers are, simply put, inept when it comes to building championship-level teams. Year after year, spring after spring, the Rangers find new and creative ways to disappoint their legions of loyal and devoted fans. For a franchise that seems allergic to winning championships, you’d think their fan base would have abandoned them decades ago, but we haven’t. We hang in there regardless of our levels of hurt and anguish.
It wasn’t always like that, however. In fact, during the time period when the Rangers first entered the NHL in 1926, and before they lost most of their top talent to fight in World War II, the Rangers were actually a rousing success. The Rangers finished first in their division in their inaugural season in the NHL, notching 25 wins and 56 points in only 44 games. In year two, incredibly, the Rangers went on to win their first Stanley Cup in 1928. In year three, 1929, the Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to Boston. And people think the Vegas Golden Knights entered the NHL with a bang?
The 1930’s brought more good times and prosperity for the Blueshirts. They made it back to the Finals in 1932 and they brought home their second Stanley Cup in 1933. 1937 saw the Rangers advance to the Finals, again! During this decade, the Rangers missed the playoffs and finished under .500 just once (1935-36). The Rangers rivaled Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees teams as far as popularity was concerned in the Big Apple.
The Rangers also sported some of the league’s most noticeable players in their formative years. Hockey hall of famers such as Bill Cook, Bun Cook, Frank Boucher and Ivan “Ching” Jonhson all starred on Broadway. The Rangers were coached by the imaginative, the incomparable, the legendary Lester Patrick. Patrick was not only a superb coach and ingenious innovator, but he also, at the age of 44, played goalie in game two of the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals after starting net-minder Lorne Chabot took a puck to the eye and was unable to return. In those days, teams did not dress a back up goalie. If needed, literally, a would-be goalie would be pulled from the stands to fill-in, in case of injury. Patrick decided he would don the goalie pads when he realized he was the best man for the job. Miraculously, the middle-aged Patrick let in just one goal and the Rangers went on to win the game and the Cup.
The Rangers early success was so ubiquitous and omnipresent that it forced the Garden’s other hockey tenant, the New York Americans, out on to the city streets. After the Rangers won their third Stanley Cup in 1940, the Americans coach, Red Dutton, decided to move his team to Brooklyn hoping a new borough would enhance his team’s appeal to the rest of the New York Metropolitan area. Dutton’s attempt to regenerate his franchise’s popularity failed and his team would end up folding after the 1941-42 season. Dutton, famously, blamed the Rangers for his team’s demise and according to legend, put a curse on his former rival’s that they’d never win another championship in his lifetime. Between you, me and the lamppost, I never believed in any stinkin’ curse. There were many factors as to why it took the Rangers 54 years to win the Stanley Cup, but Voodoo was not among them.
There was a time in which the New York Rangers were the Gold Standard of the NHL. They weren’t always the “Team Who Cried Wolf.” They weren’t always the epitome of tantalization. Will the Rangers ever reach the same levels of success that they had during their infancy years? We certainly hope so. That is why we fans hang in there year after frustrating year. Let us hope that one day, our generation of fans will get to experience what our grandparents did and that is a tradition of winning hockey and repetitive celebrations.