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Vickers' points record has stood test of time

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Earlier this year, as several longstanding Rangers records were changing hands, another major team mark celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The Blueshirts' record for points in a single game, held by 10-year winger Steve Vickers, has stood for three decades -- ever since Vickers stormed into the record books by picking up three goals and four assists in a Feb. 18, 1976, home game against the Washington Capitals.

On his record-setting day, Vickers thrilled the Madison Square Garden fans with a seven-point outburst in an 11-4 rout. The previous record of six points in one game, set by Don Raleigh, had been the standard for 25 years before Vickers eclipsed it.

"It was just one of those nights where everything went right and the puck was going in," Vickers recently recalled. "I might have had four shots on net and three went in. And every time I passed the puck, somebody scored."

A modest and unassuming player during his pro career, Vickers was known to teammates and fans alike as "Sarge" -- a nickname bestowed upon him by teammates because he often wore a military-style coat. In 10 NHL seasons, all spent with the Rangers, he scored 246 goals and 586 points, landing him in the No. 8 spot on both the team's all-time goals and points lists.

Vickers was among the few Rangers greats who did not see at least one of his records shattered in 2005-06. Ironically, his seven-point game came just 11 days after Toronto's Darryl Sittler established the NHL record of 10 points in one game. Given that climate, Vickers expected his seven-point distinction to be short-lived.

"I didn't think it would last 30 years," Vickers, now 55, said with a smile. "I thought there'd be several players who would come along and break it. I still think that, because the scoring was up this season. There are several guys who scored 30 goals this year as rookies, which is what I got in my first year."

Two other team records set by Vickers have also endured. On April 8, 1980, he set the Rangers standard for the fastest playoff overtime goal when he needed just 33 seconds to beat Atlanta in Game 1 of a first-round series at MSG. And during the 1979-80 season, he scored 29 goals on 98 shots. His phenomenal 29.8% shooting percentage led the entire NHL and was the league record until it was broken the following season by Charlie Simmer's 32.7 mark.

In addition to his team records, Vickers remains the first and only NHL player to score back-to-back hat tricks in his rookie season. He did it in home games against Los Angeles and Philadelphia in November 1972, while playing on the "Bulldog Line" with Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn.

A first-round pick in 1971, Vickers spent his first pro season with the Rangers' Central Hockey League affiliate in Omaha, where he soon turned heads with a five-goal game on Jan. 15, 1972, to tie the league record.

His stellar season in the minors set the stage for an impressive jump to the NHL when, at age 20, he scored 30 goals and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year for 1972-73. That achievement alone puts Vickers in elite company. Since 1950, only Gump Worsley, Camille Henry, Vickers and Brian Leetch have won the Calder in a Rangers sweater.

Vickers entered the NHL during a key moment in its history. At that time, the league was fighting off a challenge from the upstart World Hockey Association, whose New England Whalers had tried to lure Vickers away from the Rangers organization.

"As soon as the WHA came out in 1972, everybody's salary tripled," Vickers recalled. "It was a rival league and there was free agency. I know the Rangers opened up the purse strings back then to sign Brad Park, Rod Gilbert, and all of the other big names. They took a lot of flak for that, too, because other NHL teams let their big guns go -- guys like Derek Sanderson, Gerry Cheevers and Bobby Hull. And as soon as Bobby Hull signed with the WHA, everybody's NHL salary tripled."

Vickers had four 30-goal seasons and led the Rangers with 41 goals in 1974-75. He was also the team's assist leader with 53 in 1975-76, capping off back-to-back seasons of 89 and 83 points.

A key member of the 1978-79 team that went on to oust the heavily favored Islanders from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Vickers retired in 1982 ranked fourth on the team's all-time postseason scoring list.

"My last year, I didn't play a lot. I knew Herb Brooks was going to be there for awhile and to his credit, he was honest with me. He said 'We're rebuilding. We're looking for a speedier type of hockey player.' That's exactly what you see in the NHL today. Herb Brooks kind of brought that to the forefront with the European-type players."

Vickers tried to catch on with another NHL team, but couldn't find a taker. He then opted to retire as a lifelong Ranger.

"It's hard to believe now, but (other teams) said I was making too much money," Vickers recalled. "I was making about one-tenth of what the average NHL salary is now."

After hockey, Vickers remained in the New York area and turned to a career in insurance.

"When I was playing, I was getting insurance licenses to work as a broker. I had a life insurance license when I retired, so I went into that for three or four years but found out I didn't like it," Vickers said. "I moved back to Canada in 1987 and got a job with Bell Yellow Pages, where I worked for 16 years in sales."

While many former NHL players look to remain active in hockey after their retirement, Vickers said coaching and the front office just weren't for him.

"I never really pursued that," he said. "People ask me why, and I say 'Well, I had 10 coaches in 10 years in the NHL, so there's a little bit of pressure to win.' I think I had four or five general managers. I didn't really want to scout either. I had a really young family and I thought I'd get into the business world sooner than later."

NHL salaries were much lower in Vickers' era, and few players left the game with enough money to truly retire. That made the transition to a new career even more important.

"Most guys from my era had to work after they retired from hockey," Vickers said. "And you just can't sit back at 31 years old. I could have sat back for a couple of years, but I really had to work. I couldn't just sit around the house looking back at the glory days."

Although his three children spent their early years in New York, they also lived in Aurora, Ontario, just outside Vickers' hometown of Toronto.

Vickers' oldest son, now 26, was a junior hockey teammate of current Rangers forward Dominic Moore. Like Moore, Jim Vickers went the college route, playing four seasons on defense for RPI. He then played three years in the ECHL before going off to England to pursue an MBA degree while playing in the British league.

A regular at Rangers alumni events, Vickers said he enjoys his contact with the organization and has nothing but good memories of his years with the Blueshirts.

"I don't regret anything," he said. "I had wonderful years here and met a lot of good people."
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