The Royal Family of Rangers Hockey
Patricks at the foundation of one of New York's greatest sports traditions
It started with Lester Patrick and ended with Craig Patrick.
Over an eight-decade span one -- and only one -- family could be anointed as The Royal Family Of New York Rangers hockey -- and for perfectly good reason.
Lester -- The Silver Fox -- was the patriarch with sons Murray and Lynn later starring for the Broadway Blueshirts' 1940 Stanley Cup-winners.
|Lester Patrick guided the Rangers to their first three Stanley Cups. Two as head coach (1928 and 1933) and one as general manager (1940).|
And capping the progression was Lynn's son, Craig, an NHL player who also rose to the Blueshirts general managership.
No family has enjoyed a longer affiliation to one organization than the Patricks to the Rangers. And when one considers that we're talking about three generations of family members, it is a truly extraordinary accomplishment.
But if any one individual among the clan deserved the “Mister Ranger” on the club’s administrative level, it was Lester Patrick. He created the first Rangers team in 1926, coached the first Blueshirts club, and guided them to their first two Stanley Cups in 1928 and 1933 while behind the bench. As general manager in 1940, Lester helped the club to yet another Stanley Cup championship.
When one considers the foremost notables in hockey, not to mention esteemed coaches, Patrick ranks at the very top of the list.
There are those who would argue that Patrick was in a class by himself during both in his playing and coaching career, which lasted from 1905 till 1939.
To New Yorkers, it was Patrick the manager and coach who mattered most.
Patrick first made an impact on the game of hockey while playing for a team in Brandon, Manitoba. Patrick was the very first defenseman ever to make a practice of lugging the puck out of his zone and deep into enemy territory. Lester could never comprehend why only forwards were the puck-carriers and, conversely, why defensemen did nothing but engage the enemy attackers.
Said Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald, “He felt that a defenseman should do more than defend, so he rushed the puck as well.”
Patrick graduated from Brandon to the powerful Montreal Wanderers in 1903. At that time, organized hockey was dominated by the Ottawa Silver Seven, a club that captured the Stanley Cup in 1903, 1904, and 1905.
The Wanderers finally dethroned the Silver Seven 12-10 in the 1906 two-game total-goals series. Patrick scored the 11th and 12th goals for Montreal.
Imperial looking – many fans said he reminded them of the distinguished actor John Barrymore -- Patrick stood 6-foot tall, was slim but solidly built, and had a crown of thick, curly hair. (When the mane grew gray, he was dubbed the “Silver Fox.”) Lester had an inimitable knack for sticking dramatic poses, tossing his head back, and staring archly at others.
He was actually one of the first high-priced athletes because he knew the value of a dollar and, more importantly, the value of Lester Patrick.
While Lester was starring for the Wanderers, a wealthy group of businessmen in Renfrew, Ontario, decided to organize a major-league team and pursued Lester. He eventually signed with them for what at the time was regarded an absurdly high free for a hockey player -- $3,000 for 12 games.
It was a honey of a deal, but Patrick only stayed one season and then abruptly moved to British Columbia with his family when his father established a lumber business in the Canadian Northwest. While logging the giant trees of the Fraser Valley, Lester and Frank came up with an ambitious plan to run their own hockey league along the Pacific Coast. They had only one problem: no natural ice or rinks existed in the area.
Undaunted, Lester borrowed $300,000 from his father and, with Frank’s assistance, built a chain of rinks that gave birth to the Pacific Hockey League, including Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, and Saskatoon. Lester operated the Victoria team while Frank ran Vancouver.
|Lester Patrick (center) with sons Lynn (left) and Muzz (right) were the first family of hockey.|
Lester never gave up his skates for the executive suite. He was a one-man gang who owned, managed, coached, and played for his club. Patrick did wonders for the Cougars, especially in 1925, when Victoria met the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals.
“All the sportswriters had conceded the series to Montreal,” said Frank Frederickson, a Hall of Famer who played for Victoria. ‘But they didn’t bargain for Lester’s analytical mind, and we wound up beating the Canadiens.”
The triumph added another ribbon to Patrick’s collection, but it was soon dwarfed by his unexpected performance in the 1928 playoffs after he had retired as an active defenseman, It was then that Lester startled the hockey world by going into the nets and playing goal for the New York Rangers against the Montreal Maroons.
“This dramatic moment,” wrote Canadian journalist Trent Frayne, “has become a part of the lore of the sport, as legendary as the World Series home run Babe Ruth hit off Charlie Root of the Chicago Cubs when he pointed to the distant center field bleachers and then laced the ball there.”
Patrick was the manager of the Rangers at the time. His regular goalie, Lorne Chabot, had nearly been blinded by a shot from the stick of Montreal Maroons ace Nels Stewart. The Rangers had no spare goaltender, so Lester agreed to put on the pads.
John Barrymore couldn’t have played the part better had the playoff been staged in Hollywood. “Lester struck poses in the net,” one of his players recalled. “He would shout to us, ‘Let them shoot!’ He was an inspiration to the rest of us.”
The Rangers had scored once, and Patrick has a shutout going until late in the third period, when Nels Stewart finally beat him, The game went into overtime, and Lester foiled the Maroons until Frank Boucher was able to score the winner for New York. At that moment, Lester Patrick became immortalized.
He was half dragged, hald carried off the ice by his players as he received a tumultuous ovation from the crowd. It was Lester’s final curtain as a player.
Lester Patrick was born on December 30, 1883, in Drummondville, Quebec, not far from Montreal. Although hockey was his forte, Lester was equally gifted at rugby, lacrosse, and cricket. He enrolled at McGill University when he was 17 but quit after a year to devote his energies to hockey. His first raves were received in Brandon, where he led the Manitoba sextet to the provincial championship and then the Stanley Cup round, in which they almost beat the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven. When he became captain of the Montreal Wanderers, they won the Stanley Cup in 1906 and 1907.
“Lester was a classical player in every phase of the game,” said Hall of Famer “Cyclone” Taylor, who teamed with Patrick on the Renfrew Millionaires.
It is fascinating to note that a number of Patrick’s most glorious moments as a player occurred at a time when most observers figured him to be washed up. He had decided to retire and concentrate on front-office duties in Victoria in 1921, but a year later, two defensemen on his Cougars club were seriously injured. Lester retrieved his skates and took his position on right defense.
“From the start,” one of his opponents commented, “he was a sensation.”
The Cougars, who had not won a game in seven starts, won 19-5, and Patrick was never better. He personally won two games, taking a shot to win in an overtime contest against the Saskatoon Sheiks and netting the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Maroons.
Patrick’s facile mind had already brought permanent changes to the game. After watching a soccer match in England, Lester and Frank introduced the penalty shot to hockey. To this day, it remains one of the most exciting aspects of the game. Lester and Frank were the first to put numbers on the players’ jerseys. “It was a Patrick innovation,” said Elmer Ferguson, “pure and simple. And it has been universally adopted by all major sports.”
The Patricks were the first to adopt forward passing and to legalize puck kicking in certain areas as a means to sustain play. They invented the assist and broadened the rules governing goalies. Under the old conventions, a goalie could not legally make a stop while in any position but a vertical one. The Patricks said a goalie could gall to the ice. Today, that’s all netminders ever seem to do when blocking the rubber.
“The Patricks,” said Ferguson, “legislated hockey into modernism.”
More than that, Lester and his brother brought the professional hockey establishment to its knees. They battled the National League. They organized, reorganized, and then broke up a whole league on the Pacific Coast. When it became obvious that the Pacific League could no longer compete with the NHL, Lester sold his Victoria team to a Detroit group for $250,000.
|Craig Patrick (right) with 2009 Lester Patrick Award-winner and former Rangers goaltender Mike Richter. The award is given annually in recognition of outstanding service to hockey in the United States.|
The new club was owned by one of the most notorious bootleggers, “Big” Bill Dwyer who just happened to be in jail on opening night. Nonetheless, the Amerks became such a hit that Garden ownership decided it should have a team of its own and sought a recognized hockey personality to help create it.
The organization’s first choice was Conn Smythe, who had made a name for himself in Toronto ice circles, Smythe came to Manhattan and began signing players for the Garden’s new club, which was named the Rangers.
But the irascible Torontonian clashed so often with management that he was fired before training camp had finished. MSG moguls were advised to replace Smythe with Lester Patrick, and it turned out to be a fortuitous move for both sides.
Lester became manager and coach of the Rangers in the midst of training camp and instantly won over his players with the Patrick blend of discipline and savvy, not to mention tactical brilliance.
It was a testimonial to the “Silver Fox” that he was nominated as outstanding coach in seven of his first eight years from 1930 through 1938. He missed only the 1936-37 season.
The Rangers have won four Stanley Cups since the club’s inception, three of them with Patrick as manager.
“Lester,” said Babe Pratt, who starred on defense for Patrick, “was to hockey what the legendary New York baseball Giants’ manager John McGraw was to baseball.”
That is true. One can even substitute the name Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, or Christy Mathewson for McGraw but that still wouldn’t do the “Silver Fox” of hockey enough justice.
Even more remarkable was the fact that the Patrick family tradition in New York was perpetuated by Lester’s two sons, Lynn and Murray, Muzz.
As manager of the Blueshirts in the mid-30’s Lester Patrick realized that changes had to be made. He was one of the first to develop a farm system, and by the mid-thirties fresh, new talent like goalie Davey Kerr; defensemen Ott Heller, Art Coulter, and Babe Pratt, and forwards Neil and Mac Colville—Alex Shibicky, and Phil Watson had replaced the old guard.
Although he knew that he would be ridiculed for the move, Patrick also signed his son, Lynn, an outstanding left wing, to the team after much soul-searching. Lester feared that he would be charged with nepotism, but Lynn stopped the critics by simply playing outstanding hockey.
Patrick’s building program continued apace. He added his younger son, Murray, to the defense, and like his older brother, Lynn, Murray—known affectionately as “Muzz” – proved himself capable big-leaguer. In the 1938-39 campaign the Rangers finished second to Boston, losing to the Bruins in a stirring best-of-seven opening playoff round, four games to three.
No hockey player ever faced more pressure in his major-league debut than Lynn Patrick, the eldest son hockey patriarch Lester Patrick, manager of the New York Rangers. Lester had managed the Blueshirts ever since the team’s inception, but never faced a more difficult decision than during training camp in the fall of 1934, when Lynn seemed good enough to make the big team. Lester sensed that his twenty-two-year-old son was good enough to play left wing in the NHL, but he was anxious about charges of nepotism. Before making his decision, Lester consulted with two of the Rangers’ older players, Bill Cook and Frank Boucher.
“We’d watched Lynn,” Boucher recalled, “and told Lester his son had a lot to learn but we believed he’d eventually help us.”
Lynn’s start was modest—nine goals and 13 assists in 48 games—during his rookie year, but he showed noticeable improvement every season thereafter. In the 1937-38 season Lynn played left wing on a line with center Phil Watson and Bryan Hextall, comprising what was to be one of the best lines in NHL history. During the 1941-42 season Lynn was named First Team All-Star left winger and helped the Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 1940.
His last big season was 1942-43 before a stint in the armed forces. He returned to the Rangers in 1945-46, but lacked the speed and finally decided to retire. Like his brother Muzz, Lynn turned to coaching and in 1949-50 he directed the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the Red Wings in the second sudden-death overtime period of the seventh game.
A season later, Lynn “jumped” to the Bruins where he continued his success behind the bench. In time he became manager and eventually moved to the administrative chambers of the St. Louis Blues where he has remained since 1967-68, the first year of NHL expansion.
As for kid brother Muzz he was added to the Blueshirts shortly after Lynn made the team. “Muzz” was an exceptional athlete who at one time was a six-day bike racer, basketball star, and a heavyweight boxer of repute, not to mention being the first NHL player to enlist in the armed forces at the dawn of World War II. Like his older brother, Lynn, Muzz was under heavy pressure when his father promoted him to the NHL club late in the 1937-38 season. He was 22 years old and huge, but clumsier on skates than Lynn. Muzz was paired with Art Coulter and the two gave the Rangers one of the game’s toughest backline corps.
Patrick soon refined his style and also acted as the team’s policeman. His classic bout on ice was against Boston Bruins’ badman Eddie Shore. It happened when Shore had picked on Rangers center Phil Watson one night at Madison Square Garden. Muzz came to the rescue and wasted Shore with a flurry of punches. After World War II, Muzz turned to managing hockey clubs in the minors as well as coaching. He returned to New York as coach in 1954-55 and then became Rangers manager in 1955-56, succeeding Frank Boucher. He remained manager until October 1964, when he was pushed “upstairs” at the Garden to make way for Emile Francis, Muzz’s former assistant.
The Patrick legacy was reinforced by Lynn’s son Craig who played for no-less than four NHL teams.
Following his playing career, Patrick was assistant coach and assistant general manager of the gold medal 1980 “Miracle On Ice” United States Hockey Team, general manager of the 1991 United States Team at the Canada Cup, and general manager of the silver medal 2002 United States Olympic Hockey Team.
He became general manager of the New York Rangers in 1981 and led them to the playoffs in each of his five seasons. However, his foremost accomplishments were in Pittsburgh, where he led the Penguins to two Stanley Cups, five Division trophies, one President’s Trophy, and 11 straight playoff berths in his first 11 full seasons on the job.
Patrick engineered key deals in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup runs in 1991 and 1992, with the crown jewel of his deals landing gritty performers Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson from Hartford for John Cullen and Zarley Zalapski in time for the stretch drive in March 1991.
Once Mario Lemieux took over ownership of the Penguins in 2000-01, he retained Patrick as general manager. Craig obliged, and the Penguins again made the playoffs.