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We are the Rangers
The Oral History of the New York Rangers
By Stan Fischler
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Stan Fischler
All rights reserved.
Frank Boucher: From the Royal Canadian Mounties to the New York Rangers
BORN: Ottawa, Ontario, October 7, 1901
DIED: December 12, 1977
POSITION: Center, Ottawa Senators, 1921–22; New York Rangers, 1926–44; Coach, New York Rangers, 1939–49, 1953–54; General Manager, New York Rangers, 1948–55
AWARDS/HONORS: Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, 1927–31, 1932–35; NHL Second Team All-Star, 1931; NHL All-Star, 1932–35; Hockey Hall of Fame, 1958
Frank Boucher enjoyed one of the longest runs with one team in NHL history.
Nicknamed "Raffles" (a fictional safecracker) because of Boucher's deft stickhandling skills that seemed capable of breaking into the most difficult safes, he signed with the Rangers in 1926, the club's first year in the National Hockey League, and eventually became coach of the 1940 Stanley Cup–winning team and later general manager after the retirement of Lester Patrick. Thus his career spanned 29 years including two Stanley Cups in 1928 and 1933.
My introduction to Boucher would not come until the early 1950s while I was a student at Brooklyn College and vice president of the Rangers Fan Club. After graduation, I was appointed assistant publicist for the club and Boucher was my boss.
He gave me a handsome salary of $50 per week, later hiked to $55 in midseason.
Boucher liked me and I loved him like a favorite uncle. In addition to his smarts, "Boosh," as we all called him, was a jocular fellow who annually starred with Joseph Nichols of The New York Times. The pair would do a delightful Vaudeville song and dance act to the tune, "Are You From Dixie."
To this day, the vignette of Boosh and Joe Nick doing their routine is one of my favorite memories.
The good news was that during the 1954–55 season, I was able to spend considerable time schmoozing with Boucher; from those chats our friendship tightened and I was able to record many of his tales. The bad news was at the end of the season I was stunned to the core when Boucher was fired and replaced by our then-coach Murray Patrick, the younger son of Lester Patrick.
Boucher later became active in Junior hockey in Western Canada, and we remained in touch. Frank died on December 12, 1977, at the age of 76. It could be argued that Boucher was the greatest Ranger of them all, but that's not the point. The point is that he was my favorite as player, coach, and general manager.
Our oral history begins with Boucher talking about his start as a professional player in the Roarin' Twenties:
Are you kidding? Get a bonus for signing my NHL contract? Not on your life.
Back in 1921 that's the way it was. Attitudes were different then. We didn't have the agents, attorneys, and what-have-you that the Bobby Orrs and Bobby Hulls had later. When the Ottawa Senators asked me to play for them in 1921 I signed a one-year contract for $1,200 and considered myself very lucky and happy to be playing hockey. Nobody cared about images and stuff like that. It's not that way anymore though; today, hockey players are all business. Why, I once heard that Phil Esposito got paid for a one-hour speaking engagement what I got paid for a whole season! Imagine that. And here I won the Lady Byng Trophy seven times and never made more than $8,500 in one season.
Of course, we didn't have a players' association in our day and weren't wrapped up in all those other trappings. Frankly, I don't know whether it was dedication to the sport or if we were just damn fools. But there's one thing I'm sure of — I know we had a heck of a lot more fun than they do today. That's where we had it over them, in the laughs.
I'll never forget that first Rangers training camp. It was the fall of 1926 and Conn Smythe, our manager, had booked us into the Peacock Hotel, which was right on the outskirts of Toronto. Smythe was later replaced by Lester Patrick but at that time he was organizing the club and he was a real stickler for discipline. One of the things he did was set an early curfew. That was fine except that I had been out having a good time with Ching Johnson and by the time we got back to the hotel that night the place was completely locked.
No matter how hard we tried we couldn't get into the place, so we decided to do the next best thing and head for a hotel downtown. Since there were no cabs around we walked a few blocks to an intersection and discovered a trolley car about to start its first run of the morning. It was about 6:00 am when we got on the trolley and the motorman was an awfully friendly chap. We offered him a bit of the applejack we had been drinking and he proved to be a very congenial host.
After about 10 minutes he said he had to start the trolley on its run and asked, "Where are you gentlemen going?" I told him we'd like to head for the King Edward Hotel but at the time I didn't realize it wasn't exactly on the same route as the trolley normally would go. The motorman said he'd oblige and before you could say "Jack Robinson" he turned off all the lights except those up front and started downtown.
We had gone about three blocks when we came to the first trolley station where a half-dozen or so people were waiting to get on, but our man didn't slow one bit; he just plowed straight ahead as if the only thing that mattered was getting us to the King Edward Hotel.
We passed enough passengers in a mile or so that somebody surely must have phoned the Toronto Transit Commission to complain, but as I said our motorman didn't seem to care — at least not until we reached a corner where there was a switch. At that point he must've realized the tracks weren't going to take us to the King Edward even though his route was supposed to go directly ahead.
Suddenly he gets one of those big steel rods, runs out onto the tracks, and pulls the switch, and off we go toward the hotel. By this time the three of us made quite a barber shop trio and were singing every good song in the book until we looked up and saw the King Edward ahead. Our friend stopped the trolley directly in front of the hotel, shook our hands, and then took off into the early morning.
I was associated with the Rangers for 28 years as a player, coach, and manager and I can say without hesitation that the 1927–28 New York team and the 1939–40 team were the best Rangers clubs of all time and among the finest ever seen in the NHL. Naturally, I'm a little partial to the 1927–28 team because I played on it and I was in my prime then. What made it so great was its two very strong lines — in those day we didn't have a three- or four-line system as they do today — plus a defense that no club could equal and good goalkeeping. You knew we were good because we won the Cup in strange circumstances.
We couldn't play any of the final Cup games in New York then because Madison Square Garden had other commitments, so all our "home" games had to be played on the road, making it tremendously difficult. We eliminated Pittsburgh and Boston in the opening rounds, then went up against the Montreal Maroons and had to play all the games at the Montreal Forum.
That was the series where our regular goalie, Lorne Chabot, got hurt and old Lester Patrick went into the nets. From my own standpoint that was unforgettable because I scored the winning goal at 7:05 of sudden death. Unfortunately, the Maroons were up 2–1 in wins but I scored the only goal in the fourth game and we took it 1–0. So it all boiled down to the fifth game since it was a best-of-five series.
After Lester went in as goalie and we won, we got Joe Miller to goaltend for us. He'd been nicknamed "Red Light" Miller because he played for the Americans and they were losers at that time. I personally never thought he was bad, and as things turned out, he was terrific in that last game. Right off the bat we were behind the eight ball. We got a penalty and I was sent out to try to kill the clock until our man returned. For quite a few seconds we did pretty well and then somebody got the puck to me and I found myself at center ice, skating in on Red Dutton, a Maroon defenseman. I knew Red's weakness — if you pushed the puck through his legs he'd give his attention to it instead of watching you. I tried the trick and, sure enough, he looked down. By the time he looked up I was around him and had picked up the puck, skated in on their goalie, Clint Benedict, and flipped it into the right-hand corner.
Not very long after that we got hit with another penalty and Lester sent me out again. My only concern was to stickhandle the puck as much as possible at center ice; however, I suddenly found myself in a position where my only play was to shoot the puck off the boards and hope to pick up the rebound and keep possession. I miscalculated and shot the puck so far ahead that Dunc Munro, the Maroons defenseman, thought he could intercept it.
The puck was about midway between Munro and me, and as I watched him, I realized he was going to try to beat me to it. He came on for quite a run and I could almost hear him thinking, By God, I can't get there quite in time. He seemed to stop in one motion, then change his mind and go for the puck again. All the while, I was skating madly toward it, and by this time I had reached it. I just swooped over to one side and let Munro go by; I had the whole ice to myself, straight to the goaltender.
I moved directly in on Benedict and landed a goal in almost the exact place as I did earlier. We won the game 2–1 and the Cup. It certainly was a tribute to Lester; if he hadn't gone into the nets when Chabot was hurt I don't know what we would have done. But that was Lester: a very, very interesting man and a tough taskmaster as well.
One funny story about Lester Patrick stands out. We had played in Ottawa one night and won the game with some fantastic score like 10–1 and we went to a party afterward in Hull, Quebec, the town across the river. I guess we stayed long past our curfew but initially decided it was time to get back our Pullman sitting in the Ottawa station. We all knew that Lester must have been asleep so we tiptoed onto the train and kept passing the word along in whispers: "Don't wake Lester!"
It seemed to us that we managed to sneak in without disturbing him — or so I thought until the next morning when I walked into the diner for breakfast. Lester, who was sitting there alone, looked up and said, "Good morning, Mr. Boucher." As soon as he called me by my last name I knew something was wrong. I sat down next to him and nothing was said for about a minute until Lester offhandedly mentioned to me, "Did you know that Butch Keeling walks in his sleep?"
I said, "No, Lester, I didn't." To which Lester replied, "Y'know, Frank, that's very interesting because at about 4:00 in the morning Butch walked into my compartment, peed on the floor, and whispered something about 'Don't wake Lester!'"
There wasn't much I could say after that but if you think I was tongue-tied then let me tell you about another situation that really put me on the hot seat for quite some time. It occurred during the 1930–31 season. Cecil Dillon joined the Rangers as a rookie and it didn't take long for me to discover I was his idol, but not just as a hockey player.
Cecil had been crazy about the Royal Canadian Mountain Police ever since he was a kid, and when he found out that I had once been a Mountie there was nothing I could do to discourage him. It became embarrassing because I was only a Mountie for a short time, as all the other Rangers knew, and had never served in any of the wild Northwest outposts. Dillon nevertheless began to press me about my experiences. At first I thought I'd just let him know that nothing much really had happened to me but I could tell that he was really keen to hear something so I began with a few honest-to-goodness yarns of incidents that actually did occur. They were my best true stories and I hoped they'd be sufficient.
I didn't know whether to be happy or sad about it but Dillon thought my stories were just the greatest things in the world and began begging me to tell some more. Unfortunately, I ran out of true stories and had to make a decision: either let on to Dillon that absolutely nothing else happened that was interesting or start fabricating stories. My mistake was in deciding to do everything possible to make the rookie happy. The next time we sat down I told him a whole pile of fictitious tales.
You name it, I did it. Boucher battled the Indians; Boucher commanded a dog team in the Arctic; Boucher was all over the Northwest. When my imagination ran dry I went to the nearest newsstand to pick up a few Western magazines to restore my supply. After a while I even began to hope that Lester might trade Cecil, just to get him off my back. That didn't happen, though; Dillon was an awfully good hockey player and just as nice a guy to boot. His problem was that he kept wanting more Mountie stories and I had to keep telling them.
Once and only once I was nearly exposed. The Rangers were in Atlantic City for some reason and several of us took a stroll on the Boardwalk. When we passed a shooting gallery Dillon asked me to join him in a few rounds, figuring that as a former Mountie my shooting would be super. Actually, I couldn't shoot the side of a barn.
Cecil started shooting first and he was deadly accurate. He had done quite a bit of hunting back home in Ontario so this was second nature to him. When he got through he handed me the gun and I couldn't touch a thing — not one bloody target! It reached such a point that I could tell Cecil was wearing a long face because he was horrified at my performance.
I was about to let on to him that I had been telling a pack of fibs when I suddenly thought of something. I took Cecil aside and mentioned that while he was firing at the targets I had spoken to the fellow running the gallery and had told him to put blanks in my rifle. Cecil fell for it and as long as he played for the Rangers he remained convinced of all those Mountie tales.
Maybe that helped me later when I became the Rangers manager, because we needed all the imagination we could get during those bad years. But they didn't come until later; we had some marvelous teams in the 1930s. After I retired and was made coach we had a wonderful bunch of boys in the 1939–40 season. Yes, that was one of the greatest teams in history.
Tops in every position: it started with Davey Kerr in goal; Art Coulter and Murray Patrick as one defense team; and Babe Pratt and Ott Heller on the other. The three forward lines were just fantastic: Phil Watson–Bryan Hextall–Lynn Patrick; Neil and Mac Colville–Alex Shibicky; and Clint Smith–Kilby MacDonald–Alf Pike, with Dutch Hiller as the spare. They were perfect players for a coach because you could encourage suggestions and they'd always come up with something good that we'd practice and eventually use in a game. One result was the "box defense," where the four players killing a penalty arranged themselves in a box formation in front of the goalkeeper. We had another strategy called offensive penalty-killing which turned out to be the beginning of the modern forechecking. In this one, we tried for goals when we were a man short instead of going into a defensive shell. We'd send out three forwards and one defenseman and we'd forecheck in their own end. Our team was so good it scored more goals over a season than it had goals scored upon it during penalty-killing. Once, though, it backfired on us.
We had perfected this system — or so we thought — and went into Chicago with a 19-game unbeaten streak. In that 20th game we played rings around the Black Hawks and should have won by a big margin but for some strange reason we couldn't score a goal. We were down 1–0 into the third period.
During intermission we were batting around ideas in the dressing room when the guys came up with another new one. It was decided that if we were still down by a goal in the final minute of play we'd pull the goalkeeper and send out an extra skater. Up until that point, the way the system worked you never put the extra man on the ice until there was a whistle for a faceoff. But we thought it'd be better not to make it obvious that we were pulling the goalie; in other words, do it on the fly while the play was still going on. That was the plan.
I made one big mistake; I forgot to tell Lester our plan, and on this particular night he was sitting on our bench, which he rarely did in those days. Toward the end of the game, though, he walked over to the Chicago Stadium timekeeper because he didn't trust him and wanted to keep an eye on the clock.
Excerpted from We are the Rangers by Stan Fischler. Copyright © 2013 Stan Fischler. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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