[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]
1. The Curse
The New York Rangers won their third Stanley Cup in 1940. To the dismay of generations of Rangers fans it took the team fifty-four agonizing years to win their fourth Cup.
Mercifully the taunting chants of “Nineteen forty!” forever came to an end when Mark Messier and the Rangers lifted the Cup in 1994. “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!”, “This one will last a lifetime!”, and all that good stuff.
But why did it take so long? It’s obvious … the team was cursed.
In the 1939-40 season, when a gallon of gas cost 11 cents, the $3-million Madison Square Garden mortgage was finally paid off. To celebrate that feel-good moment Garden executives did what anyone would have done in that situation – they performed an occult ceremony.
The paid mortgage was burned in the bowl of the Stanley Cup by MSG president John Kilpatrick and three other high-ranking black mages. Rumor has it that Peter Pettigrew and a fetal Lord Voldemort were also present for the ritual, as was Fariza Balk’s character from The Craft.
Apparently the Cup caught fire during the mortgage burning or before it. There are conflicting reports about what really happened and when. People were really focused on what was happening in Europe at the time.
There is also a story about how Hall of Famer Lynn Patrick and other teammates apparently pissed on the Cup. Some people say it was done to put the fire out, but others say it happened during a separate, earlier occasion… an occasion where Patrick and a few of his buddies decided to have a sword fight and use the Cup as a urinal to celebrate.
It goes without saying that treating the Cup like an ashtray was considered sacrilegious to some hockey fans. The same can be said about pissing on it. You have to respect the Cup, y’know, and treat it right. You can sleep with the Cup, chug copious amounts of liquor from it, drop it, have your baby poop in it (looking at you Kris Draper), and kiss it hard and deep. But never burn things in it or pee on it.
Another theory behind the curse stems from an oath made by Red Dutton. (Man, what ever happened to oaths?)
During World War II the New York Americans, who also played at MSG, were forced to suspend operations. In 1946 Dutton, the head coach and general manager of the Americans, wanted to revive the Garden’s other team. The NHL wouldn’t let it happen.
Dutton was convinced that those bastard Rangers were behind the whole thing, so he made a vow. He swore that the Rangers would never win a Cup as long as he lived. (I imagine that he said it while closing his fist on a knife and slicing open his palm.)
Anyway, Dutton died in 1987 at the age of 88 and his ghost got tired of haunting the Rangers after seven years.
2. Lester’s Gallant Stand
Before the curse and the urine there was the Silver Fox’s historic stand against the Montreal Maroons. The Rangers won their first Cup in 1928 in a series that was played entirely in Montreal because the circus was at the Garden.
After losing Game 1 the Rangers were looking to even the series and prove that they were more entertaining than jugglers and mustachioed strongmen.
Game 2 was scoreless when Rangers goaltender Lorne Chabot took a shot from Nels Stewart in the face. Chabot was bleeding profusely because pucks don’t go well with human faces. Chabot had to leave the game which meant that the Rangers were totes screwed.
Back in those days teams didn’t have backup goaltenders. Instead rinks kept standby goalies around to answer the call in the event of a puck hitting a face or something. Typically, those goaltenders were minor leaguers attached to the home team. But that night in Montreal no goaltenders were arranged.
Two other netminders were present at the game as spectators, including Alex Connell of the Ottawa Senators. However Eddie Gerrard, the bench boss and manager of the Maroons, wouldn’t grant the Rangers permission to use either of them for strategic reasons and/or because he was a total dick.
As legend has it Rangers head coach Lester Patrick and his team retreated to their locker room to figure something out. Defenseman Leo Bourgault was willing to strap the pads as was Toronto manager Conn Smythe but both were denied. No one knew why the hell Smythe was there.
Things were getting desperate when captain Bill Cook approached his coach with a crazy idea. An idea so crazy that it just might work. Patrick called for the team trainer Harry Westerby.
“Harry,” Patrick barked, “I want you to get me a dry set of underwear. I want you to strip off Lorne’s skates and uniform, and I will use his equipment and go into the goaltender’s position myself.”
The 44 year old Patrick, who was naturally a defenseman, took to the ice and play resumed. Patrick allowed one goal on 19 shots and was apparently cocky as hell between the pipes. Mad with power, he implored his players to let the Maroons shoot.
The Rangers went on to win Game 2 in overtime thanks to a Frank Boucher goal that was created by the extremely racistly nicknamed Ching Johnson.
The NHL gave the Rangers permission to use New York Americans goaltender Joe Miller for the rest of that series. Gerrard was probably a dick about that, too.
Miller was in net when the Rangers won the Cup with a Game 5 victory. Apparently Chabot watched that game from the stands while wearing a black eyepatch. Instead of becoming a supervillain he chose instead to sign with the Leafs where he won a second Cup in 1932.
3. Dr. Tracy and Leone’s Magic Elixir
The Rangers sucked during the 1950-51 season. The team was in last place and had suffered 12 straight losses when general manager Frank Boucher greenlighted an outside-the-box idea by team publicist Herb Goren. A Manhattan psychologist and hypnotist named Dr. David Tracy was invited to speak to the Blueshirts.
Dr. Tracy had previously worked with the St. Louis Browns in baseball. Before being called in by the Rangers his techniques had worked in Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook and by gum it had put them on the map!
The doctor spoke calmly to the Rangers – except winger Nick Mickoski who refused to be hypnotized – before a game against Boston in the hopes of relaxing them. It was, by all accounts, super weird.
Some of the pictures we have from the spectacle show that Dr. Tracy was a large, handsy man.
The deeply confused Rangers lost that game against the Bruins thanks to a last-minute goal. The losing streak went to 13 games and the hypnotist was dismissed.
But Boucher was just getting started.
A few months later Boucher turned to his friend and restaurateur Gene Leone. Leone offered Boucher a magic potion that would help change the team’s fortunes. Boucher, being a reasonable man, allowed his friend to provide a mystery substance in a large black bottle to his professional sports team.
The Rangers drank the elixir and, of course, began to win hockey games. A lot of hockey games. While all hopped-up on Leone’s Dew the team won 10 out of 12 games and climbed into third place (out of six teams). Everyone went batshit.
At one point during that run New York sportswriter Jim Burchard was trusted to bring Leone’s Elixir to Toronto for a road game. The Rangers hadn’t beaten Toronto on the road in three years. The Maple Leafs organization had arranged for a Canadian customs agent to apprehend the bottle at the Toronto airport. But Burchard and a photographer named Harold Robinson managed to get through customs with “stale jokes and Christmas cigars” and get the bottle of contraband to the team. Yes, these things actually happened.
After getting Leone’s Elixir in their tummies the Rangers scored three goals in the first seven minutes of the first period against the Leafs. They went on to win the game 4-2 and the Toronto sports media went into a frenzy.
Apparently Leone, like so many celebrity potion-makers, wasn’t always on the ball with making his swill. When the Rangers lost road games because Leone’s Elixir wasn’t there people, especially Burchard, freaked out.
Hockey historian Stan Fischler believes that the elixir was either “clam juice or broth and a few other items.” Others believe it was a mixture of ginger ale, orange juice, and honey. Whatever it was, it was apparently disgusting to drink and some Rangers could only handle gargling it before spitting it out.
Eventually the placebo effect of the elixir wore off and the Rangers returned to their losing ways because they were very bad at hockey. The team finished that season in last place, wondering why they drank a mystery liquid provided by a strange Italian man and desperately trying to erase the fingerprints that Dr. Tracy had left in their minds.
Nick Mickoski was never seen again.
4. Marek Malik in Round 15
The 2005-06 season was the return of hockey and the beginning of the shootout in the NHL. Rangers fans were desperate for something to cheer about after seven years of missing the playoffs and enduring the 2004-05 lockout. Viva La Bam had just been canceled and Hoobastank was a thing. They were strange times.
On November 26, 2005 the Rangers played host to the visiting Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin was making his Garden debut and some mook named Henrik Lundqvist was in net for the Rangers because Kevin Weekes was injured. The stage was set for something special. Or weird.
After three periods and a scoreless overtime the game was locked at a 2-2 stalemate. The Garden crowd rose to its feet and began to buzz in anticipation of the still-novel shootout. Andrew Cassels and shootout wizard Michael Nylander scored in the second round after both Ovechkin and Martin Straka were denied.
Both goaltenders stopped three shooters before Brian Willsie and Ville Nieminen scored matching goals in round 6.
What followed was seven more rounds of awkward scoreless attempts from bottom-six forwards and blueliners.
The highlight of that stretch was 35-year-old Olaf Kolzig doing a vaudevillian wipe of his brow after Nebraska’s own Jed Ortmeyer beat him, but couldn’t finish on his deke. Pfft, just like a Nebraskan.
In round 14 veteran defenseman Brian Muir came in on Lundqvist and scored with a quick wrister to the stick side. The Capitals bench was visibly relieved and pumped. The Rangers needed a hero. They got Jason Strudwick.
The journeyman defenseman came rambling in like a runaway refrigerator with a hockey stick. He scored a goal almost identical to Muir’s to keep the Rangers alive. The Garden erupted while Strudwick pounded the glass by the Rangers’ bench in celebration.
Round 15 started with Matt Bradley failing to beat Lundqvist through his five-hole. After that, the Rangers sent out the lumbering 6’6” 238 pound defenseman Marek Malik. You know the rest.
Mike Crispino’s elated screech and John Davidson’s laughter still echo in my head more than ten years later.
What makes that moment even more special is the fact that Malik was just awful with the puck. In a postgame interview he confessed, “Well I was really happy it went in. I didn’t humiliate myself.”
Malik didn’t keep the Garden crowd on his side for long after his amazing stoic celebration.
In his three seasons with the Rangers he became a favorite target for fans and sportswriters. Mostly because he was slow and regularly turned the puck over.
In 2008 the Rangers and Malik had an ugly breakup after he refused to shake head coach Tom Renney’s hand after being a healthy scratch.
But most Rangers fans don’t remember the drama or the turnovers. They only remember the ballsiest and best shootout move in Rangers history, resulting in this call:
“Malik has not scored this year. In on Kolzig. Faked i-WAHAAAAAAR!!!”
5. The Avery Rule
Sean Avery’s six seasons in New York were bizarre. Avery’s agitating play, his 23 game field trip with the Dallas Stars, his antics off the ice, and his 601 penalty minutes in 264 regular season games made him unforgettable to Rangers fans.
But there will always be one Avery moment that stands out above the rest. No, not that gross “sloppy seconds” thing; ‘The Avery Rule’ thing.
The setting: April 13, 2008 at Madison Square Garden, Game 3 of the Rangers first round playoff matchup with the New Jersey Devils. Before the series Martin Brodeur and Avery got to know each other through some not-so-accidental collisions, staredowns, and other innocent hijinks. Just a couple of buds, palling around.
But Avery had been saving something special for Brodeur.
In the second period the score was tied at 2-2 when the Rangers earned an extended five-on-three power play. Avery placed himself in front of Brodeur, turned his back to the play (they teach you to do this at every level of hockey), and was suddenly possessed by the spirit of dance.
At the 0:19 second mark in the video above you can see Chris Drury quickly skate over to Avery and tell him to knock it the hell off. I’d like to remind you that this happened during a playoff game.
Avery scored on that same power play about 35 seconds after he stopped impersonating a Tusken Raider. No one really knew what to think but the Garden still cheered.
After the game Colin Campbell and the NHL scrambled to amend the league’s rules about unsportsmanlike conduct to include whatever the hell it was that Avery did. In the future, imitating Avery’s gyrations would result in a minor penalty.
Thus, ‘The Avery Rule’ was born.
My favorite quote attached to the infamous moment came from Rangers backup goaltender Steve Valiquette. “Sean would’ve been picking his teeth up off the ice if it was me,” Valiquette admitted. Plenty of other players offered their two cents on Avery’s tactics. Everyone acknowledged that there was no hard rule against it, but also agreed that he was a real a-hole for doing it.
The Rangers went on to lose Game 3 but won the series 4-1. Brodeur later made headlines when he refused to shake Avery’s hand after the Devils’ Game 5 defeat.
“Everyone talks about how classy/unclassy I am,” Avery observed in an MSG interview, “and Fatso there forgot to shake my hand I guess.”
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About the author: Mike Murphy grew up watching the Rangers burn money and wishing he was a gargoyle from that show Gargoyles. He enjoys Rick and Morty, chicken parmesan, and board games. He is very bad at using hand saws and writing these ‘about the author’ things. He’s on the twitters – @DigDeepBSB