A strange thing happened when I walked into Madison Square Garden on the evening of March 23, 1952. Hardly anybody was there.
Both the balcony seats and mezzanine were closed. The feeling was eerie, to say the least.
"The Garden bosses told us that hardly anyone was likely to show up," a Garden usher told me as I looked for a seat, "so everyone can sit in the expensive arena seats for just this game."
There was a method to the Garden's madness.
The Rangers and Blackhawks were the two worst of the National Hockey League's six teams. New York finished fifth and Chicago, as was normal in those days, held down the cellar. And this was the season's last game.
"The game didn't mean much to most of the guys," said Black Hawks captain Bill Mosienko, "but it sure did to me. A couple of days earlier, I looked at the NHL record book and thought it would be nice to have my name with those greats."
A two-time NHL Second All-Star right wing, Mosienko already had a career high in the 50 game 1943-44 campaign with 32 goals and 38 assists. He won the Lady Byng Trophy a year later without picking up a penalty.
But nobody was paying particular attention on this night. The sparce crowd -- less than 5,000 in an arena that held 15,925 -- was there to root for the home team and the Rangers obliged with an energetic first period.
Goals by Frank Eddolls, Don Raleigh and Ed Slowinski had given New York a 3-2 lead in the opening frame. By the end of the middle period the Black Hawks seemed doomed.
Gaye Stewart and Herb Dickenson had added goals for the Blueshirts and New York's goalie Lorne Anderson seemed to have the game well in hand.
I, personally, was rooting for Anderson who had been imported from the Atlantic City Sea Gulls in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League to replace injured Chuck Rayner.
"Anderson stopped me a few times in the first two periods," Mosienko recalled, "and it looked like we were headed for a beating."
This was especially true early in the third period when Slowisnki scored his second goal against future Hall of Famer Harry Lumley. With the score 6-2 for the home team, we all felt that this was the Rangers game.
But then strange things began happening. Or, as Mosienko liked to put it, "I caught lightning in a beer bottle." Or, as I saw it; Chicago center Gus Bodnar won a face-off and passed the puck to Mosie at center ice.
Mosienko: "I took off and went around Rangers defenseman Hy Buller and came in on Anderson. I got off a wrist shot that beat Anderson, low, and it went in on the right side."
No problem. It was 6-3 Rangers in the third period and few expected a Chicago uprising, especially with this being the season's final game. But that first Mosienko goal of the game meant something special to him.
Reaching the 30-goal mark was a big deal for scorers. It was roughly equivalent to batting .325 in baseball. This was goal number 29 for Wee Willie and he decided to grab the puck as a keepsake.
"I gave the puck to Ebbie Goodfellow, our coach," said Mosie, "and then hustled back to the face-off circle. "Gus (Bodnar) took the face-off and sent me a perfect pass as I hit the Rangers blue line.
"Hy Buller was the guy I had to go around and I did it again. Now it was me against their goalie again and I remembered that Anderson was a bit weak on the right side. That was his glove hand so I decided to shoot the puck along the ice."
He beat Andy at 6:20, eleven seconds after his first goal. It later was revealed that Hy Buller, who Mosie beat on his first two tries, was playing with a damaged leg, but Bill may not have known it at the time.
What I vividly remember is that we -- that is, the Ranger fans -- were most concerned about the home team's lead falling apart. Nobody was thinking about any record being set.
That is, nobody but Chicago's fleet right wing, who had reduced the Rangers lead to 6-4. Now the possibilities of a Mosienko hat trick had been reduced to one Chicago goal.
Mosienko: "I got a dirty look from Anderson when I went to retrieve my 30th goal. Now, I was thinking about getting a hat trick, and why not? Gus (Bodnar) still was winning the face-offs and my legs were cooperating."
So was Buller, who remained on the ice in an effort to once and for all throttle his Chicago nemesis. As if it deliberately was scripted, the next Mosienko goal took a different route.
This time Bodnar sent the puck to his left wing, George Gee. Aware of Mosienko's speed, Gee eyed his mate as Wee Willie burst over the blue line and skimmed a pass to his wing man.
Mosie took it in stride, beat Buller again and then pulled a fast one on Anderson. Rather than repeat his along-the-ice shot, Bill deked the goalie to the left and followed up with a shot under the crossbar at the right side.
The time was 6:30; the score 6-5 for the Rangers and for Mosie, had a hat trick; arguably the most unusual one of all. The three goals in 21 seconds had just become a league record; never to be broken.
As he skated back to the face-off circle, Mosie was confronted by his teammate, Jimmy Peters. "Hey, you'd better grab that puck, too, because I think you've got a record."
By this time, Anderson was furious with Mosie and gave him some lip which Bill ignored. He returned for yet another center ice face-off. Incredibly, on the ensuing play, Mosienko nearly had a fourth goal.
"I was in alone, Bill remembered, "and faked out Anderson but missed the far post by inches. When I got back to the bench, my coach, Ebbie, had a good line for me: 'What's the matter, Billy -- you in a slump?'"
Chicago's captain climbed on to the bench laughing, but I wasn't. Mosie's goal had made it a 6-5 game and in the final eight minutes the Visitors had scored two more and defeated my Rangers, 7-6.
Naturally, I was upset but I did have to add clippings to my 1951-52 scrapbook. A day later, my edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail had arrived, and I quickly turned to the sports section.
There were headlines all over the place:
MOSIENKO SHATTERS RECORD. THREE GOALS IN 21 SECONDS, arrested my attention. In addition, there were photos galore including one in which the hero was holding three pucks in his hand.
Bill has a smile a mile wide crossing his face and with good reason.
I'll never forget being a witness to that rare feat and made sure to save the three Globe and Mail stories that further recorded the feat!