Don Raleigh, who made history as the youngest person to play for the New York Rangers and went on to become a true fan favorite, passed away at age 86 on Tuesday in Kingston, Ontario.
Raleigh, a former team captain known to Blueshirts fans as “Bones”, was a career Ranger during nine full seasons in the NHL from 1947 to 1956, but it was his debut that caught everyone’s attention when he was called up to the team as a teen-ager to join a roster stripped of players called to military service during World War II.
Raleigh’s first NHL appearance came on Oct. 30, 1943, in the season-opener at Toronto. At the time, he was only four months past his 17th birthday, making him the youngest player to wear the Blueshirt. With the current system of holding the amateur draft for 18-year-olds, Raleigh’s place in history seems assured.
|Don "Bones" Raleigh was one of the Rangers' most popular players in the early 1950s and scored two overtime goals in the 1950 Stanley Cup Finals. |
Raleigh went on to play 15 games that season, scoring two goals and adding two assists, but spent most of the year with the Eastern Hockey League’s Brooklyn Crescents. When he turned 18 in June 1944, Raleigh returned to his hometown of Winnipeg and entered the Canadian Army. After the war, he attended Brandon College and the University of Manitoba before rejoining the Rangers on a full-time basis in the 1947-48 season.
During his first fall back in New York, Raleigh set the Rangers record for the fastest three assists – setting up three goals in a span of 81 seconds in a Nov. 16, 1947, home game against the Canadiens. Later that season, he became only the third player in Rangers history to score four goals in a game, when he scored all four goals in a 7-4 loss to Montreal at The Garden.
Raleigh’s assist record still stands nearly 65 years after it was set, making it one of the oldest in team history.
Extremely popular with the fans, Raleigh, a center, scored 101 goals and 320 points during his Rangers career. One of Raleigh’s greatest highlights was his role in the Rangers’ improbable run to the 1950 Stanley Cup Finals, where they fell to Detroit in a hard-fought, seven-game series. Raleigh notched four goals and five assists in the 1950 postseason to finish second in scoring behind linemate Pentti Lund. His performance earned him Rangers Playoff MVP honors.
During those Stanley Cup Finals, Raleigh became the first NHL player to score overtime goals in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals games, registering winners in Game 4 on April 18 at Detroit and Game 5 on April 20 at Detroit. Because the circus was at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers did not get to play a home game in the Finals, which might have been the difference between winning and losing the series.
Raleigh was on the bench when the Red Wings stunned the Rangers with an OT goal to win Game 7 at Detroit’s old Olympia on April 23, 1950. It was as close as he ever came to the Stanley Cup.
Raleigh’s best overall season came in 1951-52, when he led the team with a career-high 19 goals and 61 points. This came on the heels of a breakout 1950-51 season that saw him tie for the team scoring lead, collect his lone Rangers MVP award, and notch a spot in the 1951 NHL All-Star Game – his first of two All-Star appearances.
His fame boomed during the early 1950s, and in 1952 he became the first winner of the Boucher Trophy, given by the Rangers Fan Club to the team’s Most Popular Player. The nickname “Bones” was given to Raleigh by New York sportswriter Barney Kremenko, who was also responsible for nicknaming baseball legend Willie Mays “The Say Hey Kid”.
On Nov. 4, 1953, Raleigh was named the Rangers’ eighth captain, taking over from Hall of Fame defenseman Allan Stanley. He kept the “C” for the remainder of that season and the 1954-55 season, before passing the role on to another Hall of Fame defenseman in Harry Howell.
Raleigh played one more season beyond his captaincy, appearing in his final NHL game on Dec. 15, 1955. He finished out his playing days in the Western Hockey League, retiring from the Saskatoon Quakers at age 31 in 1958. After retirement, Raleigh entered the insurance business in Winnipeg.
Although he wore No. 9 for his historic NHL debut, Raleigh spent the rest of his career wearing No. 7 for the Blueshirts and was the second-to-last player to wear No. 7 before it went to Rod Gilbert and later was retired in Gilbert’s honor. As a former No. 7, Raleigh returned to The Garden and took part in the Oct. 14, 1979, jersey retirement ceremony – the first in Rangers history.
Born in Kenora, Ontario, but raised in Winnipeg, James Donald Raleigh was a member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (inducted 1998), the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and Brandon University Hockey Hall of Fame.
In the years prior to his death, Raleigh, whose wife had passed away in 2006, relocated from Winnipeg to be closer to his son, Jack, in Kingston.