Entering old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Street on the evening of March 23 1952, I thought very little about the outcome of the game.
It was the New York Rangers against the Chicago Black Hawks on the final night of the 1951-52 season. The Windy City sextet was ensconced in last place [sixth] and the home club sat just slightly ahead -- also out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot -- in fifth.
Although I was vice president of the Rangers Fan Club at the time, I hardly could get excited since my favorite Rangers had been decimated with injuries.
Starting goalie Chuck "Bonnie Prince Charlie" Rayner was out as was his replacement Emile "The Cat" Francis and New York's ace defenseman Hy Buller was playing on a cracked ankle.
Desperate for a goalie, Rangers general manager Frank Boucher elevated a virtual unknown, Lorne Anderson, from the Rangers' Eastern League team, the New York Rovers.
Anticipating the smallest crowd of the season, Garden moguls closed off the entire side and end balconies as well as the mezzanine. By the opening faceoff, the crowd count was 3,254, giving the massive arena an unusually eerie, surreal look. Based on the record-breaking event that would take place it was a shame that all 15,925 seats were not filled.
The melodrama that soon would unfold defied credulity; and it was all because of a minuscule right wing named Bill "Wee Willie" Mosienko, who would score the fastest hat trick in NHL history, a record that stands today.
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The Chicago captain and Winnipeg native once starred on one of the most famous NHL forward units, "The Pony Line," with brothers Max and Doug Bentley. All three eventually made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame. On this night, Mosienko's linemates were George Gee and Gus Bodnar.
Sitting in the end arena -- I usually was high up in the end balcony, Section 333, Row E, Seat 5 -- my enthusiasm reached a peak early in the third period when my beloved Rangers took a 6-2 lead.
Naturally we figured the Chicagoans would simply go through the motions before heading to their offseason vacations. Alas, we were in for the surprise of all end-of-season surprises -- courtesy of Mosienko.
Despite the Black Hawks trailing by four goals in the final period of the season, the Chicago captain remained surprisingly motivated. He came into the game with 28 goals and figured reaching the 30-goal mark would be a notable accomplishment.
Three days before that final game, Mosienko was in Toronto visiting a friend. "We were thumbing through the record book," he remembered later. "I remarked how nice it would be to have my name in there with some of the hockey greats."
But at the six-minute mark of the last period he had only one assist when he joined Bodnar and Gee on the ice again.
"I remember it like it was last night," Mosienko said in the book, "The Game I'll Never Forget -- 100 Hockey Stars' Stories," selected by author Chris McDonnell. "Suddenly Gus got me the puck in center ice, I went in around Hy Buller on the New York defense, on top of the goalkeeper."
Mosienko shot the puck along the ice to Anderson's right side. It disappeared into the net at 6:09 of the final frame. Score: Rangers 6, Chicago 3.
"That was my 29th goal of the year, so I reached into the net for the puck as a souvenir," Mosienko said. "Right off the next face off, Bodnar got me the puck again. I slipped around Buller again and moved right in on Anderson."
Mosienko also recapitulated his moves to Chicago writer George Vass as follows: "Right off the center ice faceoff Gus got the puck and put it on my stick when I hit the Rangers' blue line. I was really going and, just like the first time, I went around Buller, again and moved in on Anderson pretty quickly.
"I had him all to myself and figured since I'd been able to beat him on the right side -- his glove hand -- I'd try it again. Just like the first time, I slid the puck along the ice. I don't think Anderson was ready for the quick shot and it got by him for my second goal at 6:20."
That was a scant 11 seconds after Mosienko's initial goal. As I recall, none of the fellows in my side arena crowd were thinking about a record of any kind. We figured that Mosie had done his bit and that would be that.
After all the score was 6-4 and the crowd figured the home team could wrap up the two points and allow us to exit happily over to Times Square for a celebratory beverage. But Mosienko wasn't done.
"On the next face off, Bodnar shoveled the puck to Gee," Mosienko said. "I'm flying along the right and Gee passed to me. Somehow, I got around Buller again."
The crowd, which had taken only a perfunctory interest in the proceedings, suddenly took note. Few realized that the record for the fastest three goals had been set by Carl Liscombe of the Detroit Red Wings. He accomplished the feat in 1:04 in 1938 against the Black Hawks. The team record for fastest three goals was 24 seconds set by Hooley Smith, Babe Siebert and Dave Trottier of the Maroons in 1932.
"Georgie was on the left wing," Mosienko said. "When he got control of the puck he began moving toward the blue line. As he reached the blue line, I made my move. He saw me cutting over the line and he laid a perfect pass on my stick."
Then Mosienko switched tactics when he confronted Anderson a third time. He drew the goalie out, and, certain Anderson would be looking for a shot on the ice to the right, flipped the puck into the top righthand corner. Time: 6:30. Score: Rangers 6, Chicago 5. Three goals in 21 seconds.
Mosienko was about to skate to center ice for the faceoff when Jim Peters, a teammate, caught him in a sweaty embrace. "Hey! You better grab that puck, too! I think you've got a record!"
"So," Mosienko later noted, "I fished after the third puck." Then he was struck by the recollection of one that got away.
"The funny thing is that about 45 seconds later, I was alone again. I faked Anderson out of position, had an open goal to hit -- and shot wide."
So instead of four goals in 66 seconds, he was stuck with three in 21. Rather appropriately for the occasion, teammate Sid Finney finished the job for the Black Hawks in the final seven minutes with a pair of goals, giving Chicago a 7-6 victory.
Asked by a reporter to explain how he did it, Wee Willie shout back, "I was so dazed, that I hardly realized what had happened. You can say I caught lightning in a beer bottle."
Actually, the evening's perfect squelch was provided by Chicago coach Ebbie Goodfellow when Mosienko returned to the bench after missing what would have been a fourth goal.
"Hey, Mosie, what's the matter," shouted his coach, "are you in a slump?"