The impending "night" which will honor Rangers legends Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell has inspired a flood of recollections from fans who followed the pair during their halcyon years in New York.
Some of the memories -- Andy's classic penalty shot goal against the Red Wings that clinched a 1962 playoff berth -- are sweet and some rather bitter.
|Andy Bathgate had no fear of crashing the net during a year in which he came within one point of the NHL scoring title. |
Longtime fan Joseph Durocher reminded me of an episode that was both bitter and sweet and since I was there at the time, I can vouch for the mixed feelings that the capacity crowd at the "old" Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets experienced.
This was the final game of a 1961-62 season which had a surplus of highlights for Blueshirts fans.
Hall of Fame defenseman Doug Harvey had been traded to New York -- along with his excellent partner Al (Junior) Langlois -- and the pair lifted a Rangers club that had previously missed the playoffs for three straight years.
The Rangers had beaten out Detroit for the fourth and final playoff spot so when Chicago invaded the Garden on the final night of the season, the standings were irrelevant to both teams.
But there was a matter of concern for each squad and that was the scoring race.
Black Hawks ace Bobby Hull was tied with Bathgate for the scoring lead; each with 84 points. However, Hull would win the title since he had scored more goals (50) than Andy (28) and that was the NHL method for determining the champ.
Chicago's strategy was simple; prevent Bathgate from earning a single point -- assist or otherwise -- and The Golden Jet would win his second scoring title.
To do so coach Rudy Pilous assigned Reggie Fleming and Eric Nesterenko to "shadow" Bathgate all over the ice; and that they did. Fleming, notorious for his rough play, spared no method for messing up Andy.
Here's how Joe Durocher remembers the evening:
"Fleming and Nesterenko devoted themselves to keeping Andy away from the puck and/or separating him from his stick. The Black Hawks spent most of the third period shorthanded; and the Rangers took full advantage. But Chicago succeeded in keeping Bathgate off the score sheet.
"In one interview, Andy recounted how he never had his stick in his hand in the last minutes."
Thinking about it, I remember how honorable Bathgate had been that season in terms of gathering points. He never wanted a cheap assist. Durocher adds:
"If Andy had not rescinded an assist that season he felt was undeserved, he would have won the Art Ross Trophy and saved himself a mugging. I wonder if the bad karma the Black Hawks earned themselves cost them the Stanley Cup that season."
The defending Cup champions, the Black Hawks met the Maple Leafs in the Finals. I was at Chicago Stadium for Game Six with Toronto leading three games to two. Chicago had come back from an 0-2 deficit in games to tie the series at two apiece. Then, the Leafs clobbered the Hawks, 8-4, setting the stage for Game Six in the Windy City.
Down, 0-1, the Hawks tied the count at 1-1 on a Hull goal. The place went nuts and fans threw everything imaginable on the ice, including a bottle of ink. It took a good half-hour for workman to ready the rink for continued play.
Black Hawks goalie Glenn Hall once told me that the demonstration took all the momentum away from his club. A few minutes later Toronto scored and won the game, 2-1, and the Cup.
So, reader-fan Durocher is right. The "bad karma the Black Hawks earned themselves" did cost them The Cup.
In my mind, Andy Bathgate is still the Art Ross winner that year.