Like some sort of rare family heirloom, an inheritance, or a birthright: Hockey, Madison Square Garden, and the New York Rangers for our family is a generational thing now four generations strong.Mike
The legacy started back in the early 1950’s when our grandfather Anthony, “Butch” as he was better known, started taking our dad to the New York Rangers hockey games at what has been widely referred to as the “old garden.” Way back in the days of then coach Bill Cook, Harry Howell, Frank and Andy Bathgate, and Lorne “Gump” Worlsey. That’s right, in the days when Nedick’s still sold hot dogs and orange soda at MSG, when Camille “the eel” Henry was a NY Ranger rookie, and the days when goalies like Glenn Hall and the “Gumper” didn’t wear masks.
Two decades later in the early 1970’s when my brother and I, the third generation of our family started going to the games at Madison Square Garden (MSG), then version IV of MSG spanned from 31st to 33rd street between Seventh and Eighth avenues in Manhattan New York where it still sits to this day. It was the time in Broadway Blueshirts hockey history when the team still wore white jersey’s at home. The days when Ranger legends like the (GAG) Goal-A-Game line of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, and Vic Hadfield played, and Bobby Rousseau and Ed Giacomin were all nearing the end of their careers.
As a kid I can remember waiting around after the games outside Madison Square Garden’s rotunda and sometimes Toots Shor’s Restaurant, where the players sometimes gathered after a game, and hoping for just one of them to come out and sign an autograph. It was a tradition my brother and I later carried forward with our own kids.
One of my fondest memories was of my brother and I playing foot hockey with Rangers goalie Eddie Giacomin while our parents thanked and thanked him for not only giving us the puck he brought out with him after the game, but for giving us his time and a friendly pat on the head as young fans. I was only seven years old when the Rangers traded Giacomin, or technically waived him, and he was later claimed by the Detroit Red Wings in 1975. I can remember being so angry at them for doing so that all I wanted to be at the time was a Detroit Red Wings fan for Eddie. Giacomin’s departure later became what is now broadly known as one of the most emotional parting of the ways in NY Rangers’ history.
Eddie Giacomin’s return to Madison Square Garden was one of the saddest moments as a hockey fan that I can remember. There is one video on you tube of this moment, but beware that the footage is rather old. Nonetheless it was a very powerful moment and I think you’ll get the idea. Anyone who knows the New York Rangers’ history and maybe even having lived through it would remember the garden chants of EDDIE-EDDIE. On the night Giacomin returned to MSG as a Red Wing during the national anthem, the fans again recanted EDDIE-EDDIE (just as they do HEN-RIK, HEN-RIK) for goalie Henrik Lundqvist today. While the tears ran down Giacomin’s face as the rival Detroit Red Wings prepared to face off against the New York Rangers that evening with him in net, you could literally feel the power of what it means to be a New York Ranger and what it means to be a hockey fan in general. click to see the video on You Tube
It was the end of an era, but it was also the dawn of a new era because it was the official beginning of the “JD” years when goalie John Davidson had just come to the New York Rangers from the St. Louis Blues. It wasn’t long before the chants of “JD-JD” went up at Madison Square Garden just as they did for Ed Giacomin.
The Rangers tradition goes deep as JD (John Davidson) is now the President of the New York Rangers while Eddie Giacomin’s retired #1 hangs in the rafters at MSG among the other New York Ranger legends. Nine to be exact, with number ten coming next season when I’ve read that they will retire Vic Hadfield’s #11 to complete the GAG (Goal-A-Game) line’s recognition. At the moment the nine hanging up are: Ed Giacomin’s #1, Brian Leetch’s #2, Harry Howell’s #3, Rod Gilbert’s #7, Andy Bathgate’s #9, Adam Graves’ #9, Mark Messier’s #11, Jean Ratelle’s #19, and Mike Richter’s #35.
The mid to late nineteen seventies and on into the eighties were the days of the Maloney brothers Dave and Don, and the garden faithful got their first glimpses of the newly acquired Swedes Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg. Hysterical as it still is, it was also the days of the ‘Ooh Lala Sasoon’ Sasoon jeans commercial days that was done by then Rangers Phil Esposito, Ron Duguay, Ron Greschner, and Anders Hedberg. The days when the unforgiving, but passionate New York Ranger fans would ride herd on defenseman Ron Greschner for not finishing his checks when he had the opportunity to do so.
It was the time in our sport’s history when as kids we would have to stand on our seats to see Nicky Fotiu pound a rival tough guy from an opposing team. The days when Fotiu would be the first player to come out for the pregame warm ups and throw pucks up into the blue seats where we sat with our dad in section 432. As kids we would long to sit anywhere but in the blue seats, but he used to tell us that the game was different from up there and we probably never really appreciated that theory till later in life.
My dad loved his seat in the blues because he could stand up without blocking other people’s view of the game, smoke his cigarettes, shout obscenities, and run to the beer stand in between periods without worrying about us because he could see us from the concession stand line nearest to where we sat. Ironically following the renovation in 2013 section 432 was permanently removed.
We sat in the blue seats at MSG as youngsters in a haze of cigarette smoke which at the time the Garden was notorious for. Amidst the scent of cheap weed and the smells of roller cooked hot dogs and domestic beer to watch our beloved New York Rangers, as many times in a season as he was willing to take us in place of our uncle who shared the season seats with him. They went to all the marquee games against the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens while we always went see the games against the teams we could care less about as kids.
Nearly seven decades of Ranger hockey history has passed from then till now and in short, fast forward to the shortened NHL lockout season of 2012-2013 when following that season, generation IV of our family became the next in line to start attending the New York Ranger games from a season seat. It was the 2013-2014 season when my brother and I decided it was our time to further the family tradition by taking our own kids to the games.
My oldest son was a pee wee goalie at the time and playing hockey in upstate New York when although the blue seats were no longer, we were more than happy to move down a section to what used to be the green seats in the older versions of MSG. We sat just below the visitors goal line so my son could have a cat’s eye view of the goaltenders and learn. Those were the days, and these are the type of memories that make a hockey family’s tradition a legacy.
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