John Halligan, who recently passed away, was one of the NHL's best storytellers in addition to being one of the NHL's most helpful people while working as the New York Rangers
' public relations head. Halligan was with the Rangers in the 1960s when the approach to sports public relations was rather unsophisticated and sports like hockey struggled to get attention in the U.S. mainstream media.
But it was also a time when there seemed to be more colorful characters both on and off the ice. Players were identified differently: "Clear the Track, Here Comes" Eddie Shack
; "Leapin'" Lou Fontinato
; "Gump" Worsley, and the "Golden Jet" Bobby Hull
were known both on ice and off ice with descriptions next to their names.
Halligan loved telling stories about characters like Rangers trainer Frankie Paice, who was with the Rangers from 1948-1977.
Halligan delighted in telling tales about Paice, who was a popular figure with the Rangers, but not necessarily for his "training" abilities. Paice was so well known that Topps put out a Frank Paice hockey card in 1962, the only trainer to be included in the set of cards that year.
Gilbert also delights in telling Paice stories. The Rangers' Hall-of-Fame right wing spent his entire career with Paice on the bench, but Gilbert doesn't think Paice really was a real trainer. Gilbert thought Paice was a guy who was more of a cheerleader, equipment guy, and friend of anyone who was with the Rangers and of Rangers fans.
"Frank Paice as a trainer, I don't know why they gave him the name trainer, he was a baggage guy, he packed bags and equipment. He wasn't a trainer," Gilbert laughed. "So he had this big bag, Gump Worsley
's goalie bag, and he used to pack it with everything. Garter belts, gloves, gum and band aids and vitamins. It was called a grab bag. When Jacques Plante
got traded here (in 1963), he took a picture of the grab bag when it was open, he asked for a pair of socks.
"He said, 'Frank, I need a pair of socks.' But it was in the grab bag. 'He said, Frank I need some suspenders.' (Paice said) 'Don't bother me; it is in the grab bag.' So we used to go in the grab bag.
"So Plante took a picture (of the grab bag) and gave it to Dave Anderson of the New York Journal-American, Frank almost had a heart attack."
The grab bag was on display in the Journal-American for all of New York and the hockey world to see.
Gilbert liked Paice, but he thinks had hockey been a more sophisticated business when he started in 1962, the Rangers would have been a better hockey team. Paice started as a stick boy for the Montreal Maroons in 1924 and lasted 14 years there until the Maroons folded. He joined the Rangers' organization in 1946 with the minor league New York Rovers and was called up to the big club two years later. But Paice really wasn't a trainer. He was a jack of all trades.
"Jacques came from Montreal where everything was on the shelf and you didn't have to look for anything," Gilbert said of Plante. "People ran around and tried to help the players. They used to win eight to 10 games a year more because their trainer, Bill Head, who was a physiotherapist. When you were injured you came back a lot quicker. Plus it prevented a lot of injuries. Prevention is more important than curing actually."
Paice was old school.
"Put a band aid on it," said Gilbert of his time with the trainer if a player asked Paice's for a suggestion for help after an injury. "Frankie would say, 'You have a sore shoulder, lift your arm up.' A player would say 'I can't.' He said, 'Well then don't do it.' That was his form of treating the players."
Paice was very recognizable as a popular New York Rangers
personality during his time with the club. He was quick with a comment like "we will tape an aspirin to it and you will play." Halligan, Gilbert and others literally grew up in a different hockey world back in the 1960s when they joined the Rangers. Gilbert played his first game with the Rangers in 1960-61, Halligan came along in 1963. Paice has nearly four decades of hockey behind him in 1963 and was well known.
Paice had his own hockey card and you just don't find too many trainers in any sport pictured on a trading card.