by John Halligan
For many, many years, Christmas for the New York Rangers actually came in August. That's when the National Hockey League schedule was usually released. Upon scanning the schedule, the general manager or coach at the time--Lester Patrick, Frank Boucher, Muzz Patrick and Emile Francis among them--would smile if a game was scheduled on December 25. Usually it was.
The remarkable streak began in 1927, the team's second season, with a 2-0 Christmas Night blanking of the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden. The archrival Americans blanked the Blueshirts, 1-0, the following Christmas and the Boston Bruins followed with a 4-2 Christmas win in 1929.
But then followed one of the most extraordinary streaks in club history - 16 straight Christmas Night games without a single loss. In fact, the 16-game streak, stretching from 1930 to 1949, included only one tie, a "Christmas tie" if you will, a 3-3 deadlock with the Blackhawks at The Garden in 1940.
Stan Saplin and Herb Goren were the Rangers publicists when the streak was in its heyday, and they were quick to pounce on the Christmas angle in order to garner much-needed publicity. "Santa Loves The Rangers" was the usual theme, and Jolly St. Nick himself was frequently featured in the newspapers wearing a Ranger uniform. Noted cartoonists of the era - star illustrators like Willard Mullin, Burris Jenkins and Leo O'Mealia - were not overly comfortable with hockey as a subject, so anything with an angle or 'hook' would often result in a hockey piece, and the sport could then be comfortably ignored for another couple of months. Santa Claus was a perfect 'hook.'
In the 1950s, the streak floundered somewhat, but it picked up steam again in the 1960s, and finally ground to a halt with a 2-1 triumph over the Minnesota North Stars in 1971.
In 38 Christmas Night games, the Rangers won 25 times, 10 games by a shutout, lost 11 times, and tied twice, outscoring their opponents, 101 to 72.
Those numbers will never change, having been frozen in stone since the NHL no longer plays any games on Christmas.
____________________John Halligan currently serves as Director of Communications and Special Projects for the National Hockey League after spending 24 years with the New York Rangers as Public Relations Director, Business Manager and Vice President of Communications.