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Bathgate Gets His Due

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
By John Halligan

There was something about the career of Andy Bathgate, a certain elegance, a quality that seemed to supercede all others. It was evident to me, a teenager then who followed Bathgate's every move. And it is a quality that endures to the present day.

Bathgate served as captain of the Rangers from 1961 until being traded to Toronto on Feb. 24, 1964.
Quite simply, Andy Bathgate was the New York Rangers, from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. A strapping right wing, Bathgate was the Rangers' first superstar since before World War II, a hero to Rangers fans in an era that produced some highs, some lows, but no overwhelming success from a team standpoint. Individually, however, Bathgate was a star of the brightest magnitude.

How do you say it all about Andy Bathgate in 1,000 words or so, you can't. There are too many memories, so much to tell. For instance:

  • Andy's dramatic penalty shot against the Detroit Red Wings on March 14, 1962. That shot propelled the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and shook (I swear) Madison Square Garden with cheers.
  • His historic shot on November 1, 1959 that literally changed the face of hockey by badly cutting the face of Montreal goalie Jacques Plante and leading Plante to return to the ice with a mask, the first modern-day goalie to do so.
From a personal standpoint, those two events are the most searing memories of a career in and around hockey that has now spanned half a century. But there is so much more:

  • Bathgate's incredible fighting ability, a skill he didn't use often, but when he did, he won.
  • The neck and neck scoring duel that matched Andy with Chicago's Bobby Hull in a classic Garden game on the final night of the 1961-62 season.
  • The shocking trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 24, 1964.
It was Kenneth Rudeen, writing in Sports Illustrated, who probably captured the penalty shot best:

"Gracefully, almost lazily, the New York Rangers ace shooter, Andy Bathgate, laid his stick alongside the puck at the first blue line and moved goal ward at half throttle. Detroit's goalie, Hank Bassen, cruised out of his cage, cautious and hesitant. Bathgate feinted to the south, Bassen responded. Then, quick as a mongoose and smooth as the ice itself, Bathgate wheeled north, flicked a backhand, and the puck was in the net. The Garden's grimy old steelwork rang with a million decibel shout of jubilation."

Bathgate still remembers that goal "very vividly, and I think a lot of people in New York from my old bunch remember it too. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. If I missed, I would have been a complete bum, but I scored, so I was a hero for years."

Although he did it so well, fighting was hardly a Bathgate trademark. In fact, in a 1959 True Magazine article, Bathgate was so outspoken against fighting--and spearing, in particular--that he earned a $500 fine from the NHL for even raising the subject.

The battle with Hull for the scoring title was a season-long affair that came down to the 70th and final game of the season, on March 25, 1962, the Rangers and the Black Hawks on a warm Sunday night before a Garden crowd of 15,618.

Frank Udvari was the referee that night, and what a job he had. The Black Hawks assigned their two top checkers, Eric Nesterenko and Reggie Fleming, to shadow Bathgate's every move. The Rangers had Pat Hannigan following Hull.

Hull struck first, his 50th goal of the season at 4:58 of the first period. Bathgate evened the score with a 10-foot wrist shot that bulged the net behind Chicago's Glenn Hall at 10:19 of the first. The pace slowed somewhat in the second period, but the third period was chaotic, the two men playing seemingly every shift.

With two minutes to go, Chicago took advantage of a loophole in the NHL rulebook that precluded a team from being short more than two men. Nesterenko, Fleming and others leaned on, hooked and pushed Bathgate virtually every second of those final two minutes.

Both men finished with 84 points, but Hull got the Art Ross Trophy by virtue of scoring 50 goals to Bathgate's 28. Bathgate never complained, and in a rare display of financial largesse, the Rangers' general Manager, Muzz Patrick, even matched Hull's League bonus of $1,000.

A real measure of Bathgate's character occurred about a month earlier, on February 20 to be exact. Bathgate had been officially credited with an assist in a February 11 game with Boston. Nine days later, Bathgate informed the league that, in fact, he had not handled the puck on that play. That assist, had it stood, would have given the Art Ross Trophy to Bathgate. In a nutshell, that was Andy Bathgate.

Statistics, however excellent, were hardly an accurate measure of Andy Bathgate's career. There were 719 games as a Ranger, 272 goals and 729 points. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 1959. His best season was 1958-59, when he became the first Ranger to score 40 goals in a season and added 48 assists.

There were four NHL All-Star selections, two of them to the first team, no small accomplishment when your competitors at right wing included Maurice Richard and Bernie Geoffrion from Montreal and Gordie Howe from Detroit. The Hockey Hall of Fame enshrined him in 1978.

On February 22, 1964, Bathgate was shockingly traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the end of an era, the Bathgate Era, in New York.

There followed a couple of good years in Toronto, including a Stanley Cup, and some so-so seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then, it was on to Europe where the great Bathgate was a player-coach for Ambri-Piota in Switzerland.

In all, Bathgate's active career eventually covered more than 20 seasons, twelve of them in New York, where his name, and now his number nine, will be forever remembered as belonging to one of the greatest Rangers of all time.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: John Halligan served the Rangers in a variety of executive positions for 24 years. He is the author of four books on the team, the newest of which, 100 RANGER GREATS, co-authored by Adam Raider and Russ Cohen, is due to be published in 2009).

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