As Madison Square Garden prepares for the ultimate facelift with its planned renovation
, one former Rangers star is delighted the building will be staying put instead of moving to any other location.
That’s because even after The Garden gets its complete makeover, Bob Nevin
, the Blueshirts’ captain from 1965 to 1971, can still lay claim to being the first Rangers player to score a goal at the current MSG. He made that history on Feb. 18, 1968, during the first NHL game held at the Garden’s present location.
|A strong penalty killer, Bob Nevin also provided plenty of offense, scoring 29 goals in 1965-66, 29 in 1967-68, and a career-high 31 in 1968-69 -- the first full Blueshirts season at the current MSG. |
Nevin scored at 4:50 of the second period, enabling the Rangers to tie the Philadelphia Flyers 1-1 en route to a 3-1 win.
“(My record) stays intact,” he said with a laugh at a recent gathering of Rangers Alumni.
Nevin recalls the moment vividly, only wishing that the very first NHL goal in the building had been scored by a Rangers player and not Philadelphia’s Wayne Hicks, who had deflected Lou Angotti’s shot past Ed Giacomin at 12:12 of the opening period.
Nevin still enjoys his spot in history as the first Ranger to score at MSG, however, and remembers the play as if it were yesterday.
“We were playing Philly, which was an expansion team, That was the first year of expansion," he recalled. "We were losing. I remember there was a faceoff in their end. Phil Goyette was my centerman, and he drew the puck back to me and I shot it all in one motion into the net.”
Nevin’s goal set off a three-goal Rangers’ outburst that gave the Blueshirts their commanding 3-1 lead with 2:33 left in the middle period. Nevin also had an assist in the game, setting up Don Marshall’s game-winner at 12:18 of the second.
Although he knows his place in MSG lore now, Nevin said the importance of his goal against Flyers netminder Doug Favell didn’t exactly register right away.
“At the time, I didn’t really refer to it as something that was going to stand up in history,” said Nevin. “At the time, you don’t really think about those things. But as it turned out, it’s kind of neat.”
Looking ahead to the MSG renovation, Nevin remembers the stark contrast between the Old Garden and the current building. Players made the move late in the 1967-68 season, and they could immediately sense the differences in the two arenas.
“I came to the Rangers in 1964 and we moved in 1968, so I wasn’t there (the Old Garden) that long,” said Nevin. “I think it took awhile to adjust, for sure. The Old Garden was quite a bit more intimate. It was straight up and down, not slanted back the way the current one is, so you felt at the Old Garden that the fans were a lot closer to the ice level, so it created a sort of sense of that they were right on top of you and helping you. They really got behind the team.”
The fans’ close proximity to the players in the Old Garden is one of the reasons that the traditional bond between the players and the Garden Faithful became so strong, but Nevin said it was not without risk.
“In the old Garden, I was always worried about somebody falling over the balcony on top of me,” he said. “It was pretty unique, that’s for sure. But back then it was small and cozy and the fans were really great.”
When he scored his famous goal, a then 29-year-old Nevin had already been the Rangers’ captain for nearly three full years. He took over in that role on Feb. 5, 1965, replacing Camille Henry on the day after Henry was traded to Chicago. Nevin had needed only one year to establish himself as a Ranger worthy of the “C” after coming the Blueshirts on Feb. 22, 1964, as a key player in the Andy Bathgate trade.
The landmark trade -- one of the biggest blockbusters in Rangers history –- saw Bathgate and Don McKenney go to Toronto in exchange for Nevin, Dick Duff, Arnie Brown, Bill Collins and defense prospect Rod Seiling. The trade happened just hours before the Leafs and Rangers were set to face off at Maple Leaf Gardens. Going to the Rangers was great for his career, but Nevin remembers the day of the trade with mixed emotions.
“I was at home at about 5 in the afternoon,” Nevin said. “I was just getting ready to go down to Maple Leaf Gardens. We were playing the Rangers that night, and King Clancy phoned me. He said ‘Bob, when you come down to the Garden tonight, go into the other dressing room.’ I was a little bit shocked at that point, so I said to him, ‘Did I hear this right? What did you say?’. He said ‘Yeah, we just traded you to the Rangers. So when you go to the Garden tonight, go to the other dressing room. See you later, thanks’ and boom, he hung up the phone. I think I had been the first guy to go from Pee Wee all the way up within the Leafs organization. I was there for three years, won two Cups and then it was kind of like ‘See you later.’ It was tough to take at the time.”
Nevin initially wore No. 17 for the Rangers before switching to No. 8 at the start of his first full season. He wasted no time making an impact and worked hard to establish his identity as a Ranger. He went on to play 505 regular-season and 33 playoff games with the team between 1964 and 1971.
His final game with the Blueshirts came on May 2, 1971, when the team lost Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup semifinals series at Chicago. His final game at MSG was three nights earlier, when Pete Stemkowski scored in triple-overtime for an emotional win that forced the series back to Chicago. Nevin still considers that game his fondest memory in the building where he made history.
“I think the whole series in 1971 against Chicago was special,” he said. “He (Stemkowksi) got that goal in the third overtime, and I know I would like to look back on that to see how many minutes I played in that game because every time Bobby Hull was on the ice, I was on the ice. I started feeling better just at the end of the game, but I’m sure glad we scored when we did.”
Not too many players can look back on both their first and last games at the current MSG as major moments in Rangers history. Nevin said one of the nicest things about the decision to keep the renovated building on its current structure is that players and fans won’t have to experience the sense of upheaval they felt in 1968. The Old Garden was at Eighth Ave. between 49th and 50th Streets. The current Garden was roughly 20 blocks away.
“Everything was a lot newer,” Nevin said of the mood in 1968. “Anytime you move, it’s a big change. I was up in Toronto when the team moved out of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999, so I know it takes awhile to get an identity out of a new building. I think that Madison Square Garden has already done that now in its current location.”