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Bathgate Has a Touch of Greatness

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Blueshirts Flashback: 1958

As we approach the Feb. 22 celebration of the Rangers careers of Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell, is looking back at a series of articles written about the duo during their heyday. The following article, written by sports writer Al Laney for the Rangers' 1958-59 game program, gives a sense of what sports writers said about Bathgate in his own era.

Rangers legend Andy Bathgate, shown here in a 1950s publicity photo, was already drawing comparisons to the great Bill Cook before he went on to shatter all of Cook's Rangers goal-scoring records.
It must be clear by now even to the occasional visitor to the Garden on hockey nights that the Rangers have in Andy Bathgate one of those so-called superstars of the game who bring to it some of its excitement and much of its pleasure.

Such knowledge would, in fact, be hard to ignore since the magazines, both general and sports, have caught on this winter and we have read personality features lauding Andy highly. Not too highly, though, for we do not need these pieces to tell us. The evidence of our own eyes is sufficient.

It also is inevitable that this man who gives us a lift almost every turn on the ice should be 
compared with some of his Ranger predecessors. Specifically, he is being compared with Bill Cook, about whose greatness no hockey man anywhere in the world ever has had the slightest doubt.

Those of us whose hockey experience spans more than a quarter century are asked often these days if Bathgate is as great as Bill Cook and this fact alone is so significant that it speaks volumes as to Bathgate's own qualities. It is not possible to pay a hockey player a higher compliment than to suggest even that the comparison is possible.

But it would be better perhaps to dispose of this question quickly or, better stated, to postpone answering it, by replying that the time is not yet right.

Bill Cook is one of the game's authentic greats and younger Ranger fans should never forget  it. He belonged to the era of such other immortals as Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat, to name  only two stars in a large galaxy. since that day there have been revolutionary changes in the playing rules, style of play, goal-scoring proficiency and defensive abilities of the teams. But a great hockey player of one time would be just as great under whatever changed conditions the game is played.

Cook played 475 games for the Rangers before the free swinging of sticks at noggins had been made unprofitable and there are endless stories of his ruggedness, his marvelous ability and his competitive fire. Let those who did not see him take as a simple statement of fact the following:

Bill Cook could come in on a goalie with that same breath-taking burst of speed we see today only in Maurice Richard, the fabulous Rocket. This, Bill Cook could do, and he also could do some things the Rocket cannot do for he must rate as one of the finest defensive players the game has known.

Cook played eleven seasons and when he was thirty-seven years old he led the league in both goals scored and in points. Twice he scored thirty-three goals in seasons thirty and twenty-six games shorter than those of today. He was on the ice forty to fifty minutes each game, for that was the normal thing in those days when each club had a first line that did all the work, being relieved only briefly by the other lines.

There was a play-off in the 1930s, for instance, Canadiens against Ottawa Senators, in which the great Montreal line of Morenz, Joliat and Billy Boucher played two complete games, 120 minutes, without once being relieved. And there was another in which Cook, carried off the ice badly injured, returned in the final period with a bloody towel wound around his head, to score the winning goal.

This is the man to whom we now are asked to compare a star who has played only four full seasons under greatly changed conditions. If Bill Cook were around today he would be a player very much as Gordie Howe is. Let us make no mistake about that. Let us not delude ourselves in our enthusiasm for current greats. Cook was that good and there are oldtimers who will tell you he was better even than Howe at certain things. And when Cook played his first season in the NHL he was the same age 30 as the Detroit star is now in his 13th season.

We must wait a few years before we can say whether Bathgate definitely is up to this standard. Certainly, he seems to be, but four seasons are not enough. And yet, if we do yield to the temptation to place him alongside Cook and look at the two of them, we can say without reservation that Bathgate does not suffer too much by comparison. Which is only another way of insisting on Andy's high qualities. There are very few present-day hockey players about whom this may be said and not one on the basis of his first four seasons of play.

It may well be that we will one day be saying these same enthusiastic things of Bathgate that we now say of Cook since already it is impossible to speak of our man without using superlatives. No doubt he will be around for another ten years or so and there is no telling what wondrous things he may do before his career is at an end.

Bathgate really only now is getting under way. He is only halfway through his 20s and at the height of his powers. He has just now in this season, we might almost say, developed his full potential and he is entering upon that period of his career when, full of confidence and knowing exactly his own capacities, he can operate at full efficiency over a long stretch of years.

And, although we must wait a bit for the comparison, there is one thing we may say of him now. Very definitely he is the best at his and Bill Cook's job, that is to say right wing, that the Rangers have had since Cook, and that he is, in the matter of artistry, already a step ahead of his great predecessor.

Artistry is a word that may be applied freely to Bathgate as to no other player now active for it is his outstanding quality. He is, in fact, so imaginative in his play that it sometimes betrays him. More often, though, it brings joy to the heart of the spectator and success to the effort.

This buoyancy of spirit which causes Bathgate to shun the routine move and seek the more delicate and much more difficult, is the quality which endears him. Lucky the team which owns such a man and lucky the hockey fan who will be watching him perform for years to come.  
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