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Gilbert's long and winding path back to Rangers

Friday, 02.20.2009 / 10:00 PM / Where Are They Now?

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Some players will forever be tied to one organization, no matter where else they might play. Gordie Howe always will be a Red Wing. Wayne Gretzky always will be an Oiler. Rocket Richard always will be a Canadien.

And Rod Gilbert always will be a Ranger.

One of the most popular players in the club's history, Gilbert played his entire 18-year NHL career on Broadway, compiling all-time team highs of 406 goals and 1,021 points, and his 1,065 games is third on the club's list. And while he never led the Rangers to a Stanley Cup during his career -- he only played in one Cup Final, in 1972 -- he had a team-record 34 goals in 72 playoff games, and his 69 playoff points is third.

For his effort, his No. 7 was retired by the club in 1979, and he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.

Gilbert retired from the Rangers after just 19 games of the 1977-78 season. He had a plan for his post-hockey life, and staying in hockey and with the Rangers was a certainty. Things don't always go as planned however.

"I was offered the Rangers coaching job and I said I would need some seasoning in the minor leagues," Gilbert told NHL.com. "I went to New Haven in the American League to coach for one year. When I was ready to come back … I wanted to coach the Rangers. But there was a hitch there. The (1980 Olympic) gold medal was won by the U.S. and Muzz Patrick's grandson, Craig Patrick, was the assistant coach. He was hired by the Rangers (as general manager) and he suggested they bring in Herb Brooks ahead of me. And that got me out of my path."

Gilbert worked for a while trying to find a new path. First he opened a bar and restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Rod Gilbert Café du Sport, but things didn't go as Gilbert intended and he left that business behind.

"That wasn't successful and I didn't like it, it was too difficult," Gilbert said of the restaurant.

Next he tried his hand on Wall Street, working for a company called Fundamental Brokers, Inc. That went well enough that he re-located for a time to where he grew up, Montreal, to help the company open a new office there. After a year he returned to New York, but shortly thereafter Fundamental was sold, and Gilbert again decided it was time for a new path. And that path led him to an old trail.

"I didn't feel the new owners were suited for me so I came back (to the Rangers)," said Gilbert. "Jack Diller, who was president of the Rangers at the time, said why don't you come back with us and do some community stuff and be the ambassador."

On Aug. 1, 1989, Gilbert returned the Rangers, where he serves as Director, Special Projects and Community Relations Representative. He travels around the area representing the club and Madison Square Garden at all sorts of events, and he also is the president of the Rangers' alumni association.

He said he attends most of the home games, and even made a special trip this fall.

"They took some sponsors and season-ticket holders and suite holders to Prague and I spent a lot of time over there," he said of the Rangers' season-opening trip as part of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 Series. "I was there for the opening and bonded with some of the new players."

Now in his fifth decade as part of the Rangers family, Gilbert finally has found his perfect path.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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