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From the Archives: The One and Only 1-0 Game

Stan Fischler recalls the time the Madison Square Garden featured two games in one night while the NHL teams were stuck in a blizzard.
Globe and Mail

Over a lifetime of watching hockey, I've discovered that there are games that are permanently embedded in my mind.

Plus, there are a precious – very select – few that are even more memorable than the others.

The stories you see on this page happen to recall a game I'll never forget, even though there were two games – not just one – performed on the same night and on the same patch of ice in New York.

It happened during the 1951-52 season. The date: Dec. 26, 1951. The place: Old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Street in Manhattan, only a slapshot away from Times Square. The first-place Detroit Red Wings were to play the fifth-place New York Rangers.

I was there, sitting in the first row of the side balcony. At age 19 – and in my sophomore year at Brooklyn College – I rooted for the lowly Blueshirts against the high-falootin' Motor City skaters. Hey, it was the natural thing to do.

Frankly, I wouldn't have had it any other way since – at the time – I was vice president of the Rangers Fan Club. Right or wrong, my obligation was to my home team.

But that was just a sidebar to a multi-tiered hockey night that piled thrill upon thrill. And it all started with a grand delay of the main event game that totalled one hour and 10 minutes. The opening face-off originally had been slated for 8:30 p.m.

Both the Red Wings and Rangers had been travelling from Detroit on a New York Central Railroad Express. Unfortunately, it was delayed by a blizzard and stuck in Upstate New York. Eventually, NY Central snowplows released the train which then steamed its way to Grand Central Terminal.

"We knew that we'd never get there on time," said Blueshirts manager Frank Boucher, "so I phoned ahead to let the Garden folks know what was happening."

Rangers Business Manager Tom Lockhart was at the Garden to take the call. From his MSG office, Lockhart could tell that the arena already was filled with 13,556 fans, the largest crowd of the season. When Boucher told Lockhart that the teams were likely to be more than an hour late getting to the Garden, Tommy swung into action.

"I knew that our local (amateur) Met Leaguers were there to watch the game," said Lockhart, who also happened to be president of the local Met hockey circuit. "I figured that I had to do something to keep the fans from leaving before the NHL clubs arrived."

Up in the balcony, I learned about the emergency plans when Lockhart got on the public address system. He urged all Met Leaguers in attendance to immediately report to the dressing rooms, which they did.

One group comprised the U.S. Hockey Club which soon was to tour Japan while the other outfit included a collection of Met Leaguers. "We were thrilled to get on the Garden ice before such a big Rangers crowd," said Warren Cerny, star of the Met League's Manhattan Arrows, “and as a result, we played our hearts out."

From my upstairs pew, I could see that every one of the amateurs was producing an extra effort. When the first period ended with the U.S. Hockey Club ahead, 1-0, the amateurs received a well-deserved standing ovation from the appreciative crowd.

Not a single fan of the 13,556 in attendance left the arena, which meant that legendary MSG organist Gladys Goodding had plenty of minutes to pound out tunes on her Garden console. For the amateurs, she knocked off a chorus of "East Side, West Side, All Around the Town."

"Gladys presented a sprightly recital," critiqued Joe Nichols of the New York Times.

Finally – more than one-hour late – the NHL combatants took the ice. Here it was, almost the end of December and the Detroit skaters still had not lost a road game in 15 tries. Ah, but this night would be different.

"It was as if both teams wanted to play so hard to thank the fans for staying in their seats so long for the game,” commented a visiting reporter in the press box. "The Rangers and Red Wings treated it like a playoff match."

Writing in the New York Daily Mirror, Toney Betts offered, "The Fans were rewarded for the long vigil."

And so we were. "It was slam bang hockey all the way through the three periods," Betts added.

Rangers winger Ed Slowinski beat the Wings' ace goalie Terry Sawchuk early in the first period but the home team wanted more. They poured 38 shots at the Motor City goalkeeper who foiled every attempt but Slowinski's.

Betts: "Sawchuk stopped shots with his stomach, fell flat to smother others, and, during the second session made more than three times as many saves as Chuck Rayner for the Rangers."

The next day I clipped every story about the game that I could find in the newspapers. Seen here, the Mirror was headlined, “Rangers End Detroit's Road Streak, 1-0; Stanley Injured.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran a banner headline that crossed six columns. It read: “Rangers End Wing Road Streak Before 13,556 At the Garden.”

Newspaper excerpts about the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings

Joe Nichols' lead paragraph virtually leaped off the sports page:

"It was a game that was a throwback to the days of bone-crushing body checks and wizard-like goaltending."

The United Press story that appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail labelled it, "the fastest, hardest hitting and most exciting game of the Garden season."

Rayner was so spectacular while stopping an intense Red Wings attack in the final minutes that when the final buzzer signalled New York's 1-0 win, his mates "carried Rayner to their shoulders as if they were college sophomores," wrote Nichols in the Times.

As for the intensity, it was captured by the Times photographer whose photo of a goalmouth melee is seen here. It was symbolic of the vitality shared by colliding ice foes.

Like everyone else in the crowd – Met Leaguers who were featured in the preliminary exhibition as well – I knew in my heart of hearts that I had seen a hockey game I'd never forget, a true classic in every sense of the word.

This story that I'm now completing underlines the point made to myself 71 years ago as I headed to the subway with a long smile on my mug. I knew at the moment the A Express roared into 42nd Street that I had witnessed a once-in-a-life-timer.

Truly, it was – of its kind – the one and only 1-0 game.

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