Charlie "Chuck" Rayner, the legendary New York Rangers goaltender who led the club to within one goal of the Stanley Cup championship in 1950, died Saturday at his home in Langley, British Columbia. He was 82, and died of a heart attack.
Despite his relatively short NHL career, 10 seasons, Rayner became one the most popular players in the history of the Rangers. He was voted the team's most valuable player three times, and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 1950, only the second goalie in League history to win the award at the time. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.
It was the 1950 team that was Rayner's most memorable. Despite finishing fourth in the regular season standings, the Rangers surprised the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and played the Detroit Red Wings in the Finals. Madison Square Garden was booked with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, so the Rangers got only two "home" games at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The balance of the series was played at the Olympia in Detroit.
The series went seven games, and the Red Wings prevailed on a goal by utility forward Pete Babando that eluded Rayner in overtime.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think about that goal," Rayner said years later. "What a shame that was. Just one goal, and there never would have been a 54-year drought."
It was Rayner and Sugar Jim Henry who started the practice of "platoon goaltending" in the NHL. The two goalies, best of friends off the ice, were of equal talent so Frank Boucher, the Rangers' coach, kept both of them to start the 1945-46 season. Boucher would play them in alternate games, and on a few occasions, would change them from shift to shift as he switched defensemen.
Rayner was also the first goalie in history credited with scoring a goal. Playing for a Royal Canadian Armed Forces Team in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1944, Rayner skated the length of the ice and scored a goal.
Rayner, like all of the goalies of his time, played his entire career without a facemask. "I never really felt I needed a mask," he said. "Gump (Worsley, a successor as a Rangers goalie) said it best: 'My face is my mask.'"
Born Claude Earl Rayner in Sutherland, Saskatchewan, on Aug. 11, 1920, Rayner began his NHL career with the now-defunct New York Americans in 1939. After three years in the Canadian military, Rayner was signed by the Rangers as a free agent in 1945. He played eight seasons with the Rangers, retiring with knee problem following the 1952-53 season.
Rayner played 424 games in the NHL and had a career goals-against average of 3.05.