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Former Blueshirt Balon Passes Away at Age 68

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Dave Balon won the Boucher Trophy as the Rangers' Most Popular Player after scoring 36 goals in 1970-71.

Former Rangers player Dave Balon, who spent eight seasons with the team in two separate stints between 1959 and 1971, died on Tuesday in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, at the age of 68.

Balon had suffered from multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years. The illness first began to affect him toward the end of his playing career in the early 1970s and led to a premature retirement from the game. His battle with MS continued to slow him down during his years coaching Tier II junior teams in his native Saskatchewan.

A left wing during his playing days, Balon had two four-season runs with the Rangers during a 13-year NHL career. From 1960 to 1964, he shuttled up and down between the Rangers and their minor-league affiliates in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Trois-Rivieres and Kitchener before making the team for good in 1962. In Balon's second go-around with the team, from 1968 to 1971, he emerged as an NHL All-Star and led the Rangers in goal-scoring twice.

Balon left the Rangers for the first time in a highly publicized trade that brought goaltending legend Jacques Plante to New York in June 1963. Over the next four seasons in Montreal and Minnesota, Balon began to show his scoring potential, netting a total of 46 goals over his first two years with the Habs. Balon's improvement prompted the Rangers to send three players to Minnesota in June 1968 in order to bring him back to the organization.

The trade for Balon proved a brilliant, as the winger's return was triumphant. After a subpar season of only 19 goals and 31 points in 1968-69, he exploded for 33 goals and a career-high 70 points in 1969-70, followed by a career-high 36 goals in 1970-71. His 70 points in 1969-70 placed him third on the team in scoring behind Walt Tkaczuk and Jean Ratelle. Part of Balon's great success that season was the opportunity to play on the Rangers' original "Bulldog Line" with Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn.

In 1970-71, Balon, who wore No. 17, was named the winner of the Frank Boucher Trophy, awarded annually to the Rangers' "most popular player on and off the ice."

Balon began the 1971-72 season with the Rangers but did not get a chance to participate in the team's run to the 1972 Stanley Cup Finals because he was traded to Vancouver early in the season. The five-player deal took place on Nov. 16, 1971, bringing defenseman Gary Doak to the Blueshirts.

He concluded his NHL career with the Canucks in 1972-73 and attempted a comeback in the WHA with Quebec during the 1973-74 season but was forced to retire for good at age 35 because of multiple sclerosis.

Balon is survived by his wife, Gwen, daughter Jodi and son Jeff. A funeral service is scheduled for Monday, June 4, in Prince Albert.
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