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Blueshirts Flashback -- 1969-70

Center Walt Tkaczuk was one of the great Rangers of the late 1960s and the entire 1970s, and he served as a bridge between two generations of Blueshirts fans. A product of the Emile Francis renaissance in New York, Tkaczuk remained with the team into the Fred Shero years and eventually became a Blueshirts captain. His 945 games played rank fifth on the team's all-time list behind Harry Howell, Brian Leetch, Rod Gilbert, and Ron Greschner. and his 678 career points rank sixth behind Gilbert, Leetch, Jean Ratelle, Andy Bathgate and Mark Messier. The following is an actual feature on Tkazcuk, written by sportswriter Mel Woody for the1969-70 edition of the Rangers' game program:

Tkaczuk: He's Always Been a Winner

Walter Tkaczuk has been a "Ranger" since he was 13, so he shouldn't be exactly an unknown quantity here in Madison Square Garden. But every day, this young man becomes more impressive as he charges toward National Hockey League stardom.

"You haven't seen anything yet," General Manager-Coach Emile Francis promises. "He was a one-man hockey club as a junior. Why, you should have seen him kill penalties! I haven't used him for that much up here, but he was really something! And, the teams he played on were nothing but champions.

This piece is about those early days, after he came under the Ranger flag, as a 13-year-old member of a Ranger sponsored team in his hometown of South Porcupine, Ont., about 300 miles north of Toronto. Scotty Orr was the Ranger scout who brought him into the fold, and Scotty must have developed a permanent kink in his back from taking bows for that one.

Walter Tkaczuk was the only member of the Rangers to play for the team in both the 1972 and 1979 Stanley Cup Finals and was a part of the team for three very distinct eras under general managers Emile Francis, John Ferguson, and Fred Shero.
The Rangers knew what they had very early. Normal progression up the hockey ladder finds players moving from midget ranks (up to 16) to juvenile (up to 18) and then to juniors (up to 20).

But when Wally was 15, the Rangers suggested, and his parents agreed, that he should move to Kitchener, skip juvenile play and go right into junior action while attending school in Kitchener.

"I remember him getting off the plane," says Steve Brklacich, Ranger director of player personnel who then was the Kitchener coach.

"He had just one little bag with him, and I asked if he didn't plan to stay long. He told me he had shipped the rest of his stuff by train."

Wally, as the Rangers call him, doesn't remember the incident. There was no question, though, that he came to stay and play, five seasons in all.

That year, only a few weeks past his 16th birthday on September 29, Tkaczuk played mostly on the Kitchener Rangers Junior B team, although he was brought up for 21 games with the Junior A club, too.

"I remember one time when we took him along when the 'A' club played at Niagara Falls," Steve recalled. "Penalties left us two men short, so I put him on the ice."

"Now that was the Niagara Falls team that had Bernie Parent (now with Philadelphia) in goal plus Gilles Marotte (Chicago) on defense, and such forwards as Ron Schock (Pittsburgh) and Bill Goldsworthy (Minnesota) among others. They haven't scored yet!"
Steve says Wally was tall, about 5-11, but weighed only about 160 then. "Emile (then the Rangers' assistant general manager) and chief scout Lou Passador both felt that Wally would be better off in Junior B play, though, since the 'A' club was rebuilding. After all, Niagara Falls was mostly 20-year-olds who averaged maybe 185 pounds," Brklacich recalled.

The next year, 1964-65, Wally played only seven Junior A games, as he led the 'B' team to the all-Ontario championship.

"He stood out," said Brklacich. "He went where the puck was, he fought for it, and when he had it, he was a hard man to knock off it."

He still is. One recalls a recent night in Philadelphia when Tkaczuk herded the puck along the boards, running into Guy Gendron and Bobby Clarke along the way.

Tkaczuk ran right over them, knocking both to the ice. Clarke earned a holding penalty in the process, Gendron got a 10-minute misconduct for protesting the indignity of it all and Tkaczuk is still on the move.

Getting back to Kitchener, though, those were happy times for Wally. After two years of both 'B' and 'A' play, he played three solid years with the 'A' club, making second All-Star in his second year and first All-Star in his last year, 1967-68.

There's something about that last year -- when Kitchener won the league title, that I don't understand. Tkaczuk was first All-Star, but Terry Caffery, who was the No. 2 center behind Wally, got co-MVP honors with a goalie, Phil Myre. Oh well, who's to say there's logic in such matters.

Not only was Tkaczuk's stay in Kitchener an artistic success. It was a rewarding social success, too. If you don't believe it, ask Mrs. Tkaczuk.

"I met Valerie my last year of junior play there," Tkaczuk grinned, " and things kept going from there." They were married last summer.

Tkaczuk has a soft spot in his heart for Mrs. Dorothy Bailey, with whom he boarded all five years in Kitchener.

"She still writes me," Walter said. "She sends me clippings when she sees anything about me in the papers there. I see her every summer."

He sees a lot of other people there, too. The brothers at St. Jerome's High School, which he attended, call him their "favorite son," and always want to talk a spot of hockey with him.

So when Valerie and Walter return to their summer home there, he always has people to see who knew him "when."

Speaking of school for hockey players, Francis said tuition charges for players the Rangers brought up to Kitchener for the combined Junior A and B operation cost the Rangers more than $25,000 a year. In fact, the whole operation used to cost the Rangers something like $125,000 a year. Of course, the Rangers and the other NHL teams no longer have sponsored teams in this day of the unrestricted amateur draft for players over 20, although the NHL teams make a major contribution to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to be distributed among the junior teams according to need.

Tkaczuk has been an especial gem among young players because he plays the game both ways, not neglecting his defensive duties for his scoring. "I get more pleasure out of scoring, though," Wally admitted recently, indicating he did his share of concentrating primarily on defense last year.

So here's the young man's star climbing, and I think it's about time we start calling him by his right name. "I gave him that Taychuk name," grinned Steve, which is something no one by the name of Brklacich should admit. "I used to play with a guy named Pete Tachuk, and I told Walter it was easier to say that Ka-chook," which is the correct way to pronounce the young man's name.

Hard or no, I think you have to make certain concessions to upcoming stars. Like pronouncing their names right.