Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 12/28/13 at 09:30 AM ET
By Tom Murray,
First of all, before I write another word, a confession:
Stan Fischler, aka “The Hockey Maven,” is an old and dear friend. I figured I’d better share that fact before diving into a review of his latest effort, “We Are The Rangers,” which represents a bit of a milestone in his publishing career: It is his 100th book.
It is of course a remarkable accomplishment, but then again maybe Stan truly had no choice: His birthday is March 31st, a date he shares with Gordie Howe, aka “Mr. Hockey.”
Mr. Hockey and The Hockey Maven, both destined from birth to accomplish remarkable hockey feats--one on the ice, the other off it. Although Stan will be the first one to say he was always a pretty good skater too.
I first met him in the mid-70s, soon after I got out of college and had begun working for a publishing company in New York that owned a newspaper up in Montreal called The Hockey News. Launched in 1947 on the kitchen table of an enterprising entrepreneur (and p.r. man for the NHL) named Ken McKenzie, the paper was known to all as the “bible,” of the sport, but in drastic need of an editorial overhaul. McKenzie was, charitably speaking, notorious for being rather tight about everything--especially when it came to compensating his writers--and the paper showed it. A decision was made to not only redesign the publication, but install an editorial page, hire the best writers and columnists in the game--and compensate them accordingly.
Stan was one of the first we brought on board. And his column, Bluelines, a collection of gossip and tantalizing tidbits, was weekly must-reading in the revitalized paper. Stan’s nudge-nudge, wink-wink nom de guerre for the column was Jacques Justice. Everyone knew the column was his, but Stan loved it when people would ask who is Jacques Justice? “There is no justice,” he would respond, with that familiar wicked grin and twinkle in his eye.
They’ve been there--that grin and twinkle--for as long as I’ve known him. And I can only surmise it’s because he’s been doing what he truly loves for the better part of 60 years. Which may also explain why he looks virtually the same now as he did the day I met him.
OK, ok....that ubiquitous beard may be a tad grayer. But the point is Stan is still going strong, and his latest effort is devoted to the New York Rangers, whom Stan saw for the first time in 1939 at Madison Square Garden when he was just seven years old. We can only surmise that’s when his love affair with hockey officially began.
Some 15 years later, in 1954, Stan was making $50 a week as the team’s assistant publicist and was undoubtedly beginning to take note of some of the players and stories that comprise this book. It’s divided into five parts, starting with “The Early Days” and going all the way through to some prominent names on the Rangers of today--Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan. Most of the chapters are the result of interviews Stan himself conducted with all the principals. Hence, the book’s subtitle: “The Oral History of the New York Rangers.”
The book is clearly a labor of love for Stan, who unabashedly writes in the introduction, “apart from raising a family, hockey has been my life and so have the Blueshirts....the title itself--We Are The Rangers--connotes more than just the fellows who scored the goals and stopped the pucks. I have found during more than a half-century covering the team that some of the most interesting characters were those in the front office and those who even picked out the sticks for the shooters.”
So one of his chapters is devoted to Gerry Cosby, a Rangers practice goalie who went on to open a store, located at both the old and current versions of Madison Square Garden, that became synonymous with the very best in hockey equipment. There are also chapters on Tom Lockhart, the team’s former business manager, Myles J. Lane, “from the Rangers to the New York State Supreme Court,” and Bill Chadwick, “The Big Whistle,” who before a career as a Hall of Fame referee was what Stan describes as an “almost Ranger.”
Of course, the book also devotes plenty of space to many of the great names in franchise history--Mark Messier and Brian Leetch, Chuck Rayner and Andy Bathgate, Rod Gilbert and Frank Boucher, who signed as a player for the Rangers in 1926, coached them to the 1940 Stanley Cup and also served as general manager of the team, a career with the Rangers that spanned nearly 30 years. And let’s not forget Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Ranger, who just turned 94 last spring!
My favorite part of the book? The Mave saves the best for last: The epilogue delves into what he describes as his tow most emotional Ranger moments, four decades apart. The first came on the night of January 20, 1954 when the Bentley brothers. Max and Doug, were reunited in Ranger uniforms for the first time since their separation as teammates seven years earlier.
And then we move ahead almost 40 years, to the early 90s, when Stan’s son Simon, a devout Islanders fan, is fighting for his life in a New York hospital and the hockey world responds in a myriad of touching ways—especially two Rangers in particular.
All of it is lovely hockey catnip, especially for fans and followers of the Rangers and, of course, The Hockey Maven too. He’s undoubtedly already starting work on his 101st book. Here’s hoping we’ll all be reading it and many more for years to come.
We Are the Rangers: The Oral History of the New York Rangers is available at Amazon (KK affiliate link).
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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