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Bathgate, Howell come home to the rafters

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate share a moment at the end of the big ceremony.

1. Howell-Bathgate Tribute Video Watch
2. Introduction of Six Rangers Legends Watch
3. Introduction of Original Six Era Rangers Watch
4. Gilbert Introduces Howell Watch
5. Howell Talks About the Honor Watch
6. Graves on Fellow No. 9 Bathgate Watch
7. Bathgate Addresses the Audience at MSG Watch
8. The Two Banners Go Up to the Rafters Watch

PHOTO GALLERY: Bathgate-Howell Night
Game Recap: Late Rozsival Goal Saves Point

By Dan David,

By the end of Sunday night’s Legendary Blue tribute to the Rangers careers of Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell, there was the indelible image of eight Rangers legends standing on the red carpet at center ice, waving to the roaring cheers of the Garden Faithful.

It was a fitting end to a moving ceremony leading into Blueshirts’ game against a fellow Original Six team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bathgate and Howell saw their Nos. 9 and 3 raised to the MSG rafters nearly 57 years after they played their first NHL games for the Blueshirts, coincidentally against Toronto.

Andy Bathgate waves to the crowd after delivering his speech on Sunday night.
The ceremony lasted just under 60 minutes and featured the return of numerous Rangers and Original Six legends as well as speeches by Bathgate and Howell. It all built up to an emotional banner-raising as two Rangers banners went up side-by-side for the first time in team history. That was followed by the gathering of the eight Blueshirts legends at center ice and the cheers reminding everyone of the remarkable bond the Rangers have enjoyed with so many generations of New York hockey fans.

After a brief tribute video began the evening, longtime Rangers TV play-by-play broadcaster Sam Rosen, who served as host of Adam Graves Night just 19 days earlier at MSG, reprised his emcee role and began the evening by noting that this would be the “first time two men have been honored together. Two men who laid the foundation of Rangers hockey for all who came after them.”

Rosen pointed out that even though the NHL and MSG itself had changed from the days of Bathgate and Howell, the definition of what it means to be a Ranger was no different. Bathgate and Howell, Rosen said, were two men who “defined what it means to be a New York Ranger.”

Another tribute video followed Rosen’s remarks. This second video focused on the deep love that Rangers fans have always had for their team. “Who  made you True Blue?” the video asked. “Did it come from your father or your grandfather? … What do we owe history? What do we owe the past? We owe it everything.”

Before watching his banner go up, Harry Howell called it an "honor and privilege to have my No. 3 raised to the roof".
On those words, Rosen took the microphone again and began to detail many of the great accomplishments from Bathgate and Howell’s careers. He indicated the MVP Hart Trophy, which was at center ice, when talking about Bathgate and then mentioned the Norris Trophy for best NHL defenseman, also present, when referring to Howell.

Rosen went on to introduce the six Rangers greats whose numbers were already retired. Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin, Mike Richter, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves  paraded down the long red carpet from the Zamboni gate toward center ice, waving to the cheering crowd.

With the legends in place, Rosen said it was time to welcome the two guests of honor, who also came down the red carpet to the tune of the Rangers Victory Song. It was a walk clearly filled with emotion for both men.

The next round of introductions featured 11 of Bathgate and Howell’s Rangers teammates in one of the biggest gatherings of 1950s and 1960s era Rangers since the Old Garden closed its doors.

Andy Hebenton and  Hall of Famer Bill Gadsby were followed by former captains Bob Nevin and Vic Hadfield. Right behind them were Bathgate’s longtime linemates Larry Popein, Earl Ingarfield and Dean Prentice.

Two popular defensemen, Arnie Brown and Eddie “The Entertainer” Shack then came out to the cheers. In typical fashion, Shack milked the moment -- prancing down the carpet to crack up the crowd.

The final two introductions were reserved for former Rangers player, captain and coach Red Sullivan and “Leapin” Lou Fontinato, a flamboyant defenseman who was arguably the greatest Rangers fan favorite of the 1950s.

In a nod to the Original Six era, Hall of Famers from four Original Six teams came down the carpet to join the former Rangers.  Red Kelly represented the Detroit Red Wings, Dick Duff the Montreal Canadiens, Canadian Senator Frank Mahovlich represented the Toronto Maple Leafs. Two-time NHL MVP Stan Mikita, who received the biggest ovation from the crowd, came out last as the Chicago Blackhawks’ representative.

The final introductions were for the players’ wives, Merle Bathgate and Marilyn Howell. They arrived just in time to watch their husbands receive gifts from the Rangers organization and the fellow retired-number stars.

Gilbert, presenting on behalf of the six Rangers legends, gave Bathgate and Howell unique watches, tailored to celebrate the Rangers’ 83-year history. Representing the Rangers organization, Giacomin and Fontinato then presented the men with the gift of a cross-Canada train tour, followed by an Alaskan cruise for their families.

After the presentations, Gilbert introduced Howell to the crowd.

“This night has been on my wish list for a long time, believe me,” said Gilbert, who idolized both Bathgate and Howell as an 18-year-old rookie called up to the Rangers from Guelph.

Gilbert listed Howell’s great achievements, including his record of appearing in 1,160 regular-season games and the many team trophies he received. He recalled how Howell helped get so many New Yorkers interested in hockey, receiving the key to the city in the late 1960s.

“Congratulations Andy and Harry. You’re finally back home, forever,” said Gilbert in closing.

As he took the podium, Howell received a standing ovation. He was quick to note that he was saddened that former coach Emile Francis could not be there due to an illness in his family and then went on to recall his first NHL game on Oct. 18, 1952. He also thanked the men who played alongside him for so many years.

“I played 1,160 games for the New York Rangers and I’ve always wanted to be considered a New York Ranger,” said Howell. “After I left New York, no matter where I played, I always said I played in New York for the New York Rangers.”

Howell also told the story of the first Harry Howell Night at the Old Garden in January 1967, noting that the highlight was seeing Sullivan and Fontinato ride out in a red 1967 Mercury Cougar. It was clearly touching for Howell to swee both Sullivan and Fontinato back at this ceremony 42 years later.

The Bathgate introduction featured Graves, who became the first No. 9 to have his number retired by the Rangers earlier this month. Graves complimented Bathgate for his “pride, class and dignity”. He also noted that Bathgate was one of only four Hart Trophy winners as league MVP in Rangers history and told the story of Bathgate’s decision in 1962 to request that an incorrectly awarded assist be taken away from him -- thereby costing himself the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer.

“It is of the utmost privilege to introduce … the greatest player to ever wear No. 9 for the New York Rangers -- Mr. Andy Bathgate,” said Graves.

Bathgate drew energy from the fans the minute he began speaking:

“Is there any better place to play hockey in the whole damn world than New York,” Bathgate asked.

As the fans roared, Bathgate cracked a joke that spoke volumes about his own humility.

“There are two things that I really dislike doing,” he said. “One is backchecking and the other is making public speaking appearances."

Continuing in his humorous vein, Bathgate thanked his linemate Prentice, “who covered up a lot of mistakes because I hated to go back into my own zone.” He also thanked Popein for helping him win the Hart Trophy in 1959 and his longtime power-play partner on the points, Gadsby.

“This is the ultimate award for me to receive” said Bathgate. “Particulary being in Madison Square Garden, the greatest sports arena in the world. Hockey has been a major part of my life and I owe a great deal to the game, but especially to the Rangers and all the great Ranger fans, who supported the Old Garden and had your mind on the game at all times."

Bathgate then stepped away from the podium to a standing ovation as Rosen invited family members of the two legendary stars to join them at center ice.

In a final touch, Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival, wearing his new No. 33, handed his old No. 3 jersey to Howell, signifying the end of a number that saw more than 2,500 games of Rangers action since the team's inaugural season of 1926-27.

Rozsival then joined captain Chris Drury and alternate captains Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund in bringing the No. 3 and No. 9 banners from the Rangers bench out to the ice. The banners were placed in position and then raised simultaneously

Bathgate and Howell stood with their family members at the end of the long red carpet, watching the numbers rise as Rosen proclaimed it a moment “57 years in the making.”

The players faced the No. 9 banner on their left and No. 3 on their right. Both appeared to be fighting off tears as they watched themselves gain Rangers immortality.

The crowd continued to cheer as Bathgate and Howell returned to center ice and donned their jerseys one last time to spend a remarkable photo with the six other Rangers greats -- a collection of Blueshirts heroes that now spans eras as well as years.
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