GREENBURGH, NY – Sunday will be the day where the Rangers start correcting a great wrong. Too many times over the past decade, the organization has acted like it was an expansion team with their first season being 1994 and forgetting the team’s great past. Just look into the record book and you will see great Ranger clubs all the way back to 1926.
So when the club hoists both Andy Bathgate’s No. 9 and Harry Howell’s No. 3 up to the Garden rafters, it will be the first step in recognizing the Rangers’ deep and storied history.
They were men of the Old Garden at 8th Avenue and 50th Street, playing a much simpler and more rugged game. Back then, the Rangers were tenants, evicted every spring with the circus came to town. More than anything else, this is why the Rangers suffered for so many years without a Stanley Cup.
“I feel in my heart, that why a lot of players left,” said Bathgate, a Ranger from 195-1964. “The ultimate is to win the Stanley Cup. I would like to be on the winner and possibly win the Stanley Cup. We knew going in we weren’t going to be playing any games there [in the playoffs]. And our fans were so loyal, they were good for a goal a game.”
Back then the Garden was used every night for different events. The ice was always new, as the custom was to drain the rink and then refreeze it as necessary. They also had to practice an upstairs rink at the Garden that was designed for figure skating.
All of this made life difficult for the players, but they made the most of it.
“We could only play,” Bathgate said. “If you ask anyone in the NHL [the Garden] was the hardest place to play. It was almost a new ice every night and it can designate how you play.”
Bathgate, 77, finished up as a Ranger with 272 goals and 457 assists, including a Hart Trophy win in 1959. He was traded to Toronto in the 1964 season after what he felt was complaining to management about the way the team handled a few players. Yet, that was a very fortunate move, since he was able to win the ultimate award as a Maple Leaf that season.
But as he announced to the 15 or so reporters covering the event, “Once a Ranger, Always a Ranger” and the team will now send up his No. 9 to the rafters at the Garden, along with Howell’s No. 3. The 77 year-old former defenseman came up with Bathgate in 1952, but stayed with the team through the 1969 season. Much like Bathgate, Howell never saw this day coming and actually had a day for himself back in 1967 when he was still playing. His longevity as a Ranger has him still holding the team record for most games played with 1,160, while playing in 70 game seasons.
Both men will now be honored on Sunday in a pre-game ceremony. Bathgate, the first player to use a curved stick, and also a pioneer with the slap shot never thought this day would happen. “This is the ultimate for myself,” he said. “It was 45 years tomorrow night that I was traded to Toronto.”
At their advanced ages, it’s a nice gesture from the organization, yet more needs to be done. Players like Frank Boucher and Bill Cook need nights, as does Bathgate and Howell’s contemporaries like Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, and even coach Emile Francis. If they start now, then they need to finish the job and honor all the Rangers who deserve their numbers retired.
But today was not about the future, it’s about the past and about two gentlemen, who loved the game of hockey, playing it in a much simpler time.
AUDIO: Andy Bathgate on the Old Garden[audio: https://www.nysportsday.com/wp-content/uploads/bathgate.mp3]