Wednesday, January 23, 2008

After Brian Leetch, It's Time To Honor Andy Bathgate

I have some thoughts about tomorrow’s “Brian Leetch Night” at Madison Square Garden. I’m not going to tell you that he doesn’t deserve the honor, but I would not mind if these things were spaced out a bit. Plus, why have it before the Rangers play the Atlanta Thrashers? It makes little sense to me. Leetch was born in Texas; raised in Cheshire, Connecticut; went to Boston College for one year; played 17 seasons for the Rangers; had a cup of coffee with the Toronto Maple Leafs; and had a twilight snack with the Boston Bruins.

“Mark Messier Night” was held before the Edmonton Oilers-Rangers game. Makes perfect sense, considering all that Messier accomplished with the Oilers. So why the Thrashers on Leetch's night? Oh well, such is life. Hopefully the ceremony will inspire the Blueshirts to play spirited hockey like they did last night against the Thrashers.

It goes without saying that Leetch was a great player for the Rangers and one of the best American hockey players ever. Leetch played “Teddy Roosevelt” hockey. That is, he spoke softly, but carried a big stick. Next stop for Leetch: Hall of Fame.

Undoubtedly, the talk will now turn to the next cornerstone member of the 1994 Rangers. One, that folks have been clamoring for his number to be retired; that being, of course, Adam Graves. Yet, if you are going to retire his number “9,” then you have to have a dual ceremony. No I’m not trying to cause a big sensation, but I am talkin’ ‘bout a guy from another generation: Andy Bathgate.

Mr. Bathgate (pictured above) was captain of the Broadway Blues from 1961-1964 and would have brought the Cup to New York if it hadn’t been for some lackluster Rangers' teams that he played on. After playing 10 full seasons on Broadway, Bathgate was dealt to the Maple Leafs in ’64 and instantly helped them win the Cup that year. The next season he played for Detroit and led them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Bathgate won the Hart Trophy as M.V.P. after scoring 40 goals in the 1958-59 season. He did start a new sensation in a game against the Montreal Canadiens, when after blasting a puck off of Montreal goalie, Jacques Plante’s face, the goalie returned with a mask. Yes Virginia, back in those days even the goalies didn’t wear helmets.

I’m not overly excited to see Leetch’s jersey go up to the rafters, only because it seems like yesterday that they were doing the same thing for Mark Messier. But an Andy Bathgate/Adam Graves Night would really be something. The 75-year-old Bathgate was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978, and in 1998 he was ranked number 58 on The Hockey News’ list of top 100 players of all-time.

The Garden should do the right thing and give him one last, great and much-deserved hockey honor by sending the original number “9” to the very top of Madison Square Garden.


Rob Adams said...

...waiting patiently for the follow-up post now that Leetch and Rangers announced that Graves's number will go up next year.

I can't complain about the chosen players but this group won one cup. Isn't four retired numbers from one team a bit much? Guess I'm just playing devil's advocate here.

One other retired number thought - in Philly there's a movement for Pelle Lindbergh's number 31. He (again, playing devil's advocate) died in a car crash in which his blood alchol content was .24!

What say you?

Sean G. Kilkelly said...


Post forthcoming...As far as Lindbergh, I think it has got to be for sentimental reasons only. He was only in the league for a couple of seasons; good as they were. I'm not sure any goalie would want to wear 31 again in Philly, so it probably should go without saying that the number is off-limits without a retirement ceremony.

Rob Adams said...

Agreed. The number isn't formally retired, but hasn't been touched since. There's also a website with a petition. It's a very dicey subject.