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From the Archives: A First-Hand View Of 'Lester Patrick Night'

Some nights are special to begin with but mark the beginning of something more. Stan Fischler recalls 'Lester Patrick Night' on Dec. 3, 1947 as the beginning of one friendship and the weakening of another.
Lester Patrick Night game program

You won't be able to tell from the Rangers program cover – shown here – how important this game was for me.

It was life-changing for Yours Truly both as a 15-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs supporter as well as an aspiring hockey player, even if it meant playing only in a Queens, N.Y. YMCA roller hockey league.

I didn't know it at the time but Dec. 3, 1947 had all kinds of significance. For starters, this marked the beginning of a string of seven years of never missing a Rangers home game – until October 1954. That's when I went to work for the team as an assistant publicist.

It also marked my first run of seven straight years of never missing the Leafs against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. But this particular night was even more important than that to both teams.

For Toronto, it marked exactly a month since Leafs boss Conn Smythe had completed the biggest deal in franchise history, giving up five players – a complete front line and two solid defensemen – for Chicago's superstar center Max Bentley and minor leaguer Cy Thomas.

This game would demonstrate why Bentley would turn his new club into what Smythe would label, "The best Leaf team I ever had."

As for the Rangers, who were on a winning streak, the match featured a historic and sentimental side. The Blueshirts Hall of Fame patriarch, Lester Patrick, would be celebrated with a "Night" in his honor. The program has Lester's picture on the back cover and a cartoon on the inside back cover.

Lester Patrick Night program back cover

Frankly, I was more interested in my Leafs than Lester, but that sentiment would change over the years as I moved from hysterical to historical. But, on that night on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, my only interest centered on Toronto cementing its hold on first place.

My seat, among the 15,925 pews at MSG, was in the end balcony. It cost $1.25 for a ducat, Section 333, Row E, seat 5. The arena was full that night because Lester Patrick not only would be honored by the home fans but there would be a few extra added attractions.

The first vignette unfolded at center ice where Lester received a scroll declaring him one of the very first members of the newly-created Hockey Hall of Fame, then situated in Kingston, Ont.

Already overwhelmed by the award and thunderous cheers from the crowd, Patrick then was joined – in their original red, white and blue uniforms – by five of his original 1926-27 stars, including the top line of Bill and Bun Cook, along with center Frank Boucher. In addition, the first season defense pair of Ching Johnson and Taffy Abel joined hands with their one-time boss, Lester, to yet another round of applause.

In retrospect, I look back at that Patrick ceremony as one of the most meaningful in my life. Hockey history was made with those original Rangers embracing their original boss, Lester. And to see the Hall of Famers on skates in uniform was something to behold.

But, frankly, I was at The Garden to root for my Maple Leafs, and to see how the gifted Max Bentley would fit into the lineup. I'd already read what coach Hap Day said about his new center: "Max can do more things with a puck than anyone I've ever seen."

He proved it to me that night against the Rangers. Day had two Hall of Fame centers in captain Syl Apps and Ted Kennedy. That meant that Max would skate on the third line between Nick Metz and Joe Klukay. The Leafs won, 4-1, and Max helped set up both of Klukay's two goals.

I couldn't have been happier. Not only did my guys and Maxie star, but the fellow sitting next to me turned out to be a Leafs fan and we bonded. He was an Irish guy from Woodside, Queens who played roller hockey on a team called the Woodside Whippets.

(Great name!)

When I told Jim I yearned to play on a roller hockey team, he invited me out to Queens, and a week later, I was an official Whippet on defense with Fred Meier. Suffice it to say that Fischler, Hernon and Meier became friends for life.

But that's not the end of the story because the evening would produce significant ramifications for Lester and his manager, Frank Boucher. It turned out that Lester's "night" coincided with the beginning of the end of the Patrick-Boucher lifelong friendship.

"Lester thought I was ignoring him," Boucher later wrote in his autobiography, When The Rangers Were Young, "that he didn't feel welcome. I was truly annoyed. I felt Lester was being excessively petty. He felt I didn't want him to have anything to do with the club."

The feud intensified when Boucher announced he was going to trade defenseman Hal Laycoe and forwards Joe Bell and George Robertson to Montreal for center Buddy O'Connor and defenseman Frankie Eddolls.

"Lester didn't like the deal and told our Garden boss, General John Reed Kilpatrick, that it shouldn't be made," Boucher said. "And I told the General if we didn't make the trade, I'd quit."

Boucher completed the deal which became one of the most one-sided in NHL history.

O'Connor won both the Hart and Lady Byng trophies that season and just missed the scoring championship by one point. Eddolls evolved into the Rangers' best defenseman and a leader as well, helping the Rangers become a playoff contender.

None of the players Boucher dispatched to Montreal amounted to much, plus the Rangers pushed the Habs out of a playoff berth.

All in all, the events beginning on Lester Patrick Night and finishing with the season's finish eventually had a happy ending. Lester commended Frank on the deal, the Blueshirts had truly improved and – best of all – my Leafs went on to win their second straight Stanley Cup with Max Bentley making Smythe's courageous deal look just fine.

Of course, you wouldn't have read the other bit of hockey business in any of the papers, but there was still more good news in my playing career. I actually helped the Woodside Whippets win a trophy in the Long Island City YMCA Hockey League.

I have a photo of Yours Truly with the prize which – if it was placed next to the Stanley Cup – you'd need an electron microscope to find.

But my little Kodak camera found it and the picture still hangs on my wall. Right next to it is the program that you see here, heralding Lester Patrick Night in New York, and the game I'll never forget.

Lester Patrick Night cartoon

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