For my tenth birthday, March 31, 1942, my parents gifted me with two presents that have played a neat part in my entire life.
One was a tiny Philco "Transitone" radio which -- even in faraway Brooklyn -- could pick up Foster Hewitt's play-by-play of Maple Leafs' Saturday games as part of Hockey Night In Canada.
The other gift was a large scrapbook with a three-dimensional Indian head on the cover. That turned out to be the first of many bulging hockey scrapbooks which I amassed over the next decade, from 1942 through 1952.
All of the newspaper clippings you see in these archives come from the original scrapbooks. This article, related to the Rangers and their bitter-sweet 1942-43 season, originally was pasted in that birthday present scrapbook which I have -- and covet -- to this day.
The story ran in the New York Journal-American, Hearst's evening flagship paper in The Big Apple. Some 13 years later -- in a rare touch of journalistic irony -- I wound up becoming one of the J-A's sportswriters, with the accent on hockey.
As for further irony, the story here tells about the future of the 1941-42 Rangers, one of the best teams in franchise history. Coached by Frank Boucher, the Blueshirts topped the seven-team NHL. The Rangers co-Madison Square Garden tenant, the Americans, finished last.
Yet, a season later the 1942-43 edition of the Rangers was by far the worst team in the league. World War Two was blazing in Europe and the Far East and many Rangers stars from that first-place season had entered the Canadian and American armed forces.
These included Blueshirts captain and Hall of Fame defenseman Art Coulter who joined the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as left wing Lynn Patrick and defenseman Murray Patrick who enlisted in the U.S. Army; among other stars who donned the khaki.
But as bad as the Blueshirts blundered through the 1942-43 season, their attendance climbed and that curious fact prompted this Journal-American story by sportswriter Lester Rice. The banner headline and subhead tell it all:
RANGERS FLOP, BUT NOT AT GATE -- TOP 1942 PROFIT BY $24,000. (Forgive the missing half of the E. I was just learning how to use scissors.)
As a student of journalism, I always liked a good lede and Rice certainly delivered one here:
"Sure enough, our Rangers have been hurt, hexed and hounded until they are only ghastly ghosts of their former selves, but it's nothing to cry about. The hockey season hereabouts has been a big bust as far as bones are concerned, but what of the box office? That has not been a bust -- it's been a dough burst.
"The Rangers might be deep in the cellar and going nowhere in a great hurry, but on the basis of 14 home games they are actually $24,000 ahead of the profits of last year's bumper flag-winning race."
Despite all the wartime restrictions -- end of overtime, massive enlistments -- the NHL not only survived, but thrived. Veteran J-A reporter Rice was amazed.
"Let it be said," Rice wrote, "that hockey has been doing handsomely despite riddled rosters and a universal depreciation of skill."
But it was noted that not all teams were coining money. While Detroit, Toronto and Rangers were up in profits, Chicago, Montreal and Boston were down but hardly to alarming proportions.
In the Rangers case, the Blueshirts got some sweet uses from adversity although the adversity belonged to their former Madison Square Garden cousins, the New York (renamed Brooklyn) Americans.
At the end of the 1941-42 season, the roster-riddled Americans requested that the NHL give them a sabbatical for the duration of the war. Once that was granted, Rangers coach Frank Boucher's team had the Garden crowd to itself.
Rice: "Here in New York, the principal reason for increased revenue has been multiple Sunday dates. Furthermore, the Rangers have had the territory to themselves and undoubtedly have lured many of Red Dutton's old (Americans) followers back to the Eighth Avenue arena.
"It also has been suggested that their imitation of the (lowly) Americans this season has had a responsive effect upon the populace. Taking the Amerks as an example, Gotham galleries love to root for underdogs and nobody will dare say that the Blueshirts aren't down and pretty nearly out."
Not only "out," but submerged for five consecutive seasons right through the end of wartime. Pitifully, the Rangers completed the 1942-43 campaign dead last with a miserable 11-31-30 record. Fifth place Chicago finished fifth a full 19 points ahead of New York.
With their regular goalie Sugar Jim Henry, in the Canadian Army. the Rangers went through netminders the way Broadway went through plays.
At the time of Lester Rice's article the Rangers got Jimmy Franks on loan from Detroit for a goaltending stint, but then had to look elsewhere. They had to settle for a 15-year veteran of pro wars, Bill Beveridge.
"He's worn the livery of five National League teams at one time or another," Rice concluded.
But Rangers fans didn't seem to mind. They still filled The Garden because all they wanted for dessert was another hockey game!