Rangers Numerology: A Look at Jersey #1

By Anthony Long
rangers jersey

Retired NYR numbers stitched in the 85th anniversary sweater (NYR)

Retired NYR numbers stitched in the 85th anniversary sweater (NYR)

One of the biggest things we as fans can do is buy a jersey and proudly support OUR team. While Herb Brooks said that “the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back”, fans also show their loyalty to their favorite player or players by getting their names and numbers put on their backs. Not many fans put their own names on their jerseys. Go to a Rangers game and you will see Messier, Leetch, Graves & Richter jerseys even though they haven’t played for the team in almost 10-20 years!

So this got me thinking. For each number that has been worn in Rangers history, which player “wore it the best?” So in a new feature here on FullTilt Rangers, we will look at the players that wore each number and narrow it down to the top 3 and then conclude with the player who wore it the best.

In some cases there might be only one player who wore a number; in other cases there may be dozens. The best one might not be the one who has the best statistics as a Ranger. The best may be chosen simply because of a particular game or season. That’s the fun part of this. Everyone will have their own take, their own list. We want you all to express your opinions both positive and negative. Most of all though, let’s have some fun and open debate doing this! So without further ado, let’s get this rolling with Rangers #1.

HOF goalie Eddie Giacomin

HOF goalie Eddie Giacomin

Who Has Worn #1?

Through the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, there has been a total of 38 players who have worn the New York Rangers # 1 jersey. Unless the Rangers pull a Vancouver Canucks Mark Messier / Wayne Maki blunder (whereby the Canucks un-retired Maki’s jersey #11 to give to Messier to wear when he signed with them in the summer of 1997), that number will stay at 38.

The Rangers retired Number 1 for Ed Giacomin on March 15, 1989 becoming the second number retired in Rangers history after Rod Gilbert’s #7. Another thing about the Number 1 that may or may not be surprising is that every player that has worn it was a goalie. Some of the names you may have heard of; some you may not. Still there are others that you might scratch your head and ask, “Did he play for the Rangers?” or “Oh Yeah! I remember him!” Regardless of your take the list boast several Hall of Famers

The list of players that have worn Number 1 are:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.47.38 PM *courtesy of newyorkrangers.com
A quick view of the names and you will see some that stand out; Hall of Famers even! Some were legends of the NHL; others only legends in their own household. Regardless, they wore the Blue, Red & White of the New York Rangers and they had the opportunity to play in the NHL which is not something to be taken lightly.

As with all lists like this, subjectivity always comes into play and that’s where the fun lies. In my opinion, the 3 best “who wore it well” were Doug Soetaert, Wayne Thomas and of course, Eddie Giacomin.

Doug Soetaert (1975-81, 1986-87)

Doug Soetaert

Doug Soetaert

Doug Soetaert was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on April 21, 1956. He was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1975 in the 2nd Round (30th overall) in the NHL Amateur Draft. He made his debut with the Rangers during the 1975-76 season; appearing in 8 games and posting 2-2 record with a 5.27 GAA & .859 save percentage. He would spend parts of the next 5 seasons with the Rangers, appearing in a career high 39 games in 1980-81 sporting a record of 16-16-7 with a GAA of 3.93.

He was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for a 1983 3rd round draft pick and played there for 3 seasons. The Jets then shipped him to the Montreal Canadiens (for Mark Holden) where he manned the pipes for 2 seasons. Soetaert played his final NHL season with a return to Broadway for the Rangers in 1986-7, appearing in 13 games with a record of 2-7-2 and GAA 5.16.

While certainly never a star for the Rangers, Soetaert was a favorite of mine growing up for some reason (maybe the uniqueness of his name?). In parts of 7 seasons for the Blueshirts, Soetaert appeared in 103 games with a record of 35-40-15 and a GAA of 4.03.

Soetaert would go on to become the asst coach/GM of the Colorado Rangers & Denver Rangers (both at one time the Rangers top minor league affiliate) and he spent 1990-91 to 2000-01 seasons as the GM and Senior VP of hockey Operations of the Kansas City Blades of the IHL. He also served in the same capacity for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL from 2002-03 through 2011-12. He had a brief stint in 2005-6 as the President of the Omaha Ak-Sar Ben Knights of the AHL He also had 2 brief stints in the NHL; first as a scout for the Rangers in 1989-90 & then as asst GM for the Calgary Flames in 2005-06. Last season he plied his trade as Director of Scouting for EC Salzburg in Austria.

Wayne Thomas (1977-81)

Wayne Thomas

Wayne Thomas

Wayne Thomas was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on Oct. 9, 1947. He was drafted originally by the Los Angeles Kings but was traded to the Montreal Canadiens where he made his NHL debut during the 1972-73 season. In his first NHL start, he shutout the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 on January 14, 1973 which was quite an impressive feat.

He played in only 10 games that season as he was the backup behind Hall of Famer Ken Dryden. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup but Thomas did not play a single minute during the playoffs. He did however receive a Stanley Cup ring but because he did not play enough games during the year, his name is not on the Stanley Cup.

He became the Canadiens starting goalie during the 1973-74 season and recorded a record of 23-12-5 in 42 games with a GAA 2.76. The Canadiens were not sold on him however, and he did not play a single game for them in 1974-75 despite being on the active roster the entire season.

The Habs traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs and over 2 seasons he appeared in 97 games with a record of 38-37-19 and GAA 3.57. The New York Rangers claimed him off waivers on Oct. 10, 1977 and he made his Rangers debut five days later against his former team, the Canadiens in Montreal. In parts of 4 seasons with the Blueshirts, Thomas appeared in 94 games fashioning a record of 34-43-11 with a 3.63 GAA. He appeared in 1 playoff game (loss) and gave up 4 goals.

Since retiring from the Rangers he has remained in the game. From 1981-82 thru 1984-85 he was an assistant coach with the Rangers. He then went on to the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the IHL where he was head coach and won a championship in 1986-87. He was an assistant coach for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1987-88 and head coach of the Peoria Rivermen of the IHL for the following 2 seasons.

In 1991-92 & 1992-93 he was an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues. Since 1993-94 he has been a part of the San Jose Sharks organization in various capacities. He has served as an assistant coach, assistant GM & VP of Hockey Operations. He has also served as the general Manager of the Sharks top minor league affiliate in the AHL (Kentucky Thoroughbreds, Cleveland Barons & Worchester Sharks).

Ed Giacomin (1965-75)

Eddie Giacomin

Eddie Giacomin

Ed Giacomin was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada on June 6, 1939. His rights were acquired by the Rangers on May 18, 1965 from Providence of the AHL for Marcel Paille, Aldo Guidolin, Sandy MacGregor & Jim Mikol. He made his Rangers debut on October 24, 1965 against the Montreal Canadiens. Simply put, he went on to become – at the time of his retirement – the single greatest goalie in Rangers history.

In between, there were some marvelous times and great memories. Some highlights of his career were winning the Vezina Trophy (co-shared with teammate Gilles Villemure), being named to the NHL 1st All-Star teams in 1966-67 * 1970-71, the 2nd team in 1967-68, 1968-69, 1969-70 7 playing in the All-Star game 6 times (1968-71, 1973). He also backstopped a powerhouse Rangers team to the Finals in 1971-72 against the Boston Bruins and along with Villemure was the backbone of the Rangers teams in the late 60’s & early 70’s.

Over 11 seasons in net for the Blueshirts, Giacomin captured the imaginations of Rangers fans with his charismatic and acrobatic style. In the 11 seasons, he played in 538 games posting 266-172-89 record with a 2.73 GAA along with 49 SHO. The GP, Wins & Shutouts were all Rangers franchise records at the time of his retirement. Giacomin was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987. He received the ultimate team honor when his number 1 was retired on March 15, 1989 joining former teammate Rod Gilbert as the only 2 –at that time – Rangers to have that honor bestowed upon them.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of Giacomin, however, came as an opponent at MSG. The Rangers were rebuilding and on October 31, 1975, the Rangers released the long time veteran netminder. The Detroit Red Wings claimed Giacomin on waivers and on November 2, 1975 in an emotional return to Garden ice, Giacomin backstopped the Red Wings to victory. At the beginning of the game, during the National Anthem, Ranger fans honored Giacomin by chanting the familiar “EDDIE!! EDDIE!!, EDDIE!!” chant drowning out the music.

Eddie's tearful return to MSG.

Eddie’s tearful return to MSG.

A visibly moved Giacomin was shown on TV wiping away the tears as he struggled with his emotions. For the first time in forever, the Rangers seemed to be the “visiting” team on Garden ice that night. It was a night to remember and one that went down in Garden history.

Conclusion

When compiling lists like this it is always a very subjective process. A lot goes into deciding who should be ranked where and why. Emotion plays a lot into it. For some, statistics are the “be all, end all.” For this particular endeavor, choosing who “Wore Number 1 the Best”, the first spot was fairly easy.

Giacomin is an All-time great. The choosing of Thomas & Soetaert was a personal choosing of mine and I thank you for indulging me. There were several other worthy candidates; Glen Hanlon, Gump Worsley & Jacques Plante to name a few.

I never did see either Worsley or Plante play and I was never a big fan of Hanlon. Thomas & Soetaert were part of my youth growing up as a Rangers fan watching them on TV. Usually it was a road game as I lived in the Bronx and cable had not yet made its way to our side of the river yet! (Hard to believe in this day and age, huh?) Do you agree with my list? Or do you have your own? So who’s your #1? 2? 3? Give us a shout and let us know what you think!