New York was already a happening place for hockey by the time the Rangers came on the scene playing their first game on November 16, 1926. With the opening of the Ice Palace, St. Nicholas Rink, and Clermont Avenue Rink in 1896, New Yorkers had had years of hockey before they were granted their first NHL team, the New York Americans. The Americans had played at the opening of Madison Square Gardens (the third of its name) in December 1925.
The following April, the Garden’s owner/president, George “Tex” Rickard, was granted another New York franchise. When sportswriters referred to the team as Tex’s Rangers, Rickard kept the name and set it diagonally across the sweaters to set them apart from the Americans with their horizontal lettering. Rickard originally hired Conn Smythe, who travelled North America signing on the best players he could find. When management and Smythe butted heads, Rickard brought Lester Patrick on board as the Rangers’ coach.
On November 16, 1926, for a crowd of over 13,000 spectators, the New York Rangers faced off against their first opponent, defending Stanley Cup champions Montreal Maroons. The Rangers’ captain, Bill Cook, scored the only goal of the game (and thus the Rangers’ very first goal) at 18:37 of the second period. Cook became just the player needed to draw the crowds to the new team when he scored the franchise’s first hat trick at their second game. With his brother, Fred “Bun” Cook, and center Frank Boucher, they formed the Bread Line that kept the goals coming. In that first game, Boucher brawled in the only fight he would have during his ten years in the NHL. In the Rangers’ goal, Hal Winkler had the honor of being the first to shutout the opponent in his NHL debut.
The Rangers became popular by playing hard and clean, earning a reputation as “the classiest team in hockey.” Their teamwork led to a first-season record of 25-13-6, the best in the NHL, and a trip to the playoffs. Although they did not make the finals on their first try, they won the Stanley Cup on their second, one year later. In fact, in their first six seasons, they made it to the finals four times.
The first game for the Rangers was followed by the first games for two other Original Six teams. Stay tuned!
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 50-58.