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NHL Centennial

Lester Patrick's heroics helped Rangers win first Cup

New York coach forced to play goal because of injury, gets victory in Game 2 of 1928 Final

by Stan Fischler / Special to

As part of the NHL's Centennial Celebration, longtime hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler, "The Hockey Maven," will write a biweekly scrapbook for The scrapbook will look at some of the strange-but-true moments from the NHL's first 100 years.   

When it came to the 1928 Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Maroons and New York Rangers, the most unlikely goaltender in NHL postseason history was between the pipes in Game 2 of a tumultuous tournament.

Lester Patrick was 44 years old and had never played goal professionally. He had been a Hall of Fame defenseman, but by this time had retired from playing and was the Rangers general manager and coach. For obvious reasons, he had no intentions whatsoever to put on the big pads for New York's first Stanley Cup challenge.

But duty called, and in the most extraordinary of ways.

Video: 1928 Cup Final, Gm2: Coach Patrick dons the pads

The saga began with Montreal winning the opening game, 2-0. Lorne Chabot played goal for New York. An accomplished goaltender, Chabot was back between the pipes for Game 2 on April 2, 1928, at the Montreal Forum.

Then, it happened: The Maroons boasted the hardest shooter of that era, Nels Stewart, appropriately named "Old Poison." In that particular game, he was poison to the Rangers. The laser show he delivered caught the usually nimble Chabot by surprise and dispatched him to the ice with a face that could best be described as destroyed.

When doctors checked out Chabot in the dressing room, they discovered that the six-ounce hunk of vulcanized rubber had crunched into the goalie's head just above the left eye.

In the Forum infirmary, tall with white combed-back hair, Lester Patrick took another look at his wounded goalie before Chabot was dispatched to Royal Victoria Hospital (Chabot would never play another game for New York). As the ambulance departed, Patrick knew he had to find a goaltender. But where?

Lester dashed around the rink to the Maroons dressing room and conferred with their coach, Eddie Gerard. Patrick had an idea.

"I'd like permission to use Alex Connell of the Ottawa Senators," said Patrick. "He's in the rink, and I'm sure he'd play for us."

By contemporary standards, "borrowing" a goaltender is a primitive practice. But in hockey's early years it was a customary procedure, if the opposing team agreed to it. In fact, Patrick himself, when he was running the Victoria team, had allowed the Toronto St. Pats to use the very same Gerard in a playoff series against Victoria. So, there was precedent.

Eddie mulled over the bid for about 10 seconds and unequivocally replied, "[Heck], no. You can't use Connell!" Stunned and furious, Patrick stormed out of the room and headed straight for the Rangers' locker room.

"We don't have a goalie," Lester said, "and Gerard won't let us use Connell. Frankly, gentlemen, I don't know what we're going to do."

The late James Burchard, who covered hockey for the old New York World-Telegram, was there. A rollicking sort who thought nothing of swimming across the Hudson River on a dare, Burchard suggested that Lester don the pads himself.

"Go on, Lester," urged the big, gravel-throated Burchard, "show 'em what you're made of."

Burchard's idea made some sense. Just for fun, Lester had played some goal during Rangers scrimmages, so he did have a bit of experience. A few of his players felt Lester could do the job. Suddenly, he startled the onlookers.

"OK," he muttered, "I'm going to do it."

Lester diligently strapped on Chabot's bloodstained pads.

"OK, gang. Let's go," he shouted as he headed for the ramp leading to the ice.

A muffled chorus of oohs and ahhs came from the crowd when Patrick made his way to the net for the traditional practice shots.

Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the Rangers attempted to bolster Lester's spirit, as well as their own, by pumping some shots at his pads. Maybe, they felt, if he stopped a few in practice, he would think he could stop a few in the game. The referee signaled the resumption of the match, and Patrick rapped his pads in the symbolic goaltending gesture of readiness.

Finally the puck was dropped, and the Rangers pounced. They scarcely let the Maroons touch it, and when Montreal did manage to get off a shot at Patrick, he tamed it away. Somehow, Patrick shut out the Maroons in the second period, and the score was still tied 0-0.

All of a sudden, the Patrick ploy no longer seemed like a joke. His decision to play goal was a catalyst for the Rangers, and they returned to the ice for the third period more determined than ever. Within fifty seconds, Bill Cook had barreled through the Maroons defense and lifted the puck past goalie Clint Benedict.

But Montreal wasn't about to give up so easily.

The Maroons counterattacked more fiercely than ever, yet the old "Silver Fox" stood his ground, groaning with every kick-save that strained his aging physique. At last, with 5:40 remaining, Lester cracked. Nels Stewart skirted the Rangers defense, feinted once, and skimmed the puck past Patrick to make it 1-1.

Lester held fast after that as the clock ticked its way to the conclusion of regulation. Then, it was sudden-death overtime. Montreal was counting on the ancient Lester to fold in the stretch. After all, there was just so much he could take. But somehow, Patrick managed to foil the Maroons in the early minutes of the overtime, and soon the momentum -- so often happens in the kaleidoscopic game of hockey -- tilted in the Rangers' favor.

Frank Boucher, their creative center, captured the puck and made his way up the ice. He zigzagged past a Maroons defenseman and swerved toward the goal. Benedict crouched as Boucher cruised in. The shot was hard and low and the puck flew past the Maroons goalie.

The Rangers won 2-1, and Lester Patrick was the triumphant goalie. The Rangers clambered over the boards and surrounded him. He was hoisted to their shoulders and carried off the ice. One of the broadest grins of all was worn by Jim Burchard, who patted Lester on the back.

Thanks to Patrick's unexpected heroics, the Rangers would eventually go on to defeat Montreal and win New York's first Stanley Cup.

Years later, the hockey writer composed a poem to Patrick:

"Twas in the spring of twenty-eight

A golden Ranger page,

That Lester got a summons

To guard the Blueshirt cage.

Chabot had stopped a fast one,

A bad break for our lads,

The Cup at stake-and no one

To don the Ranger pads.

"We're cooked," lamented Patrick,

"'This crisis I had feared.'"

He leaned upon his newest crutch.

And wept inside his beard.

Then suddenly he came to life,

No longer halt or lame.

"Give me the pads," he bellowed,

"I used to play this game."

Then how the Rangers shouted.

How Patrick was acclaimed.

Maroons stood sneering, gloating,

They should have been ashamed.

The final score was two to one.

Old Lester met the test.

The Rangers finally won the Cup,

But Us has since confessed.

"I just spoke up to cheer the boys,

"I must have been delirious.

"But now, in reminiscence,

"I'm glad they took me serious."

-- James Burchard, November, 1947

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