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How a post-war family squabble ruined the Rangers

Stan Fischler
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Lynn Patrick (Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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How a post-war family squabble ruined the Rangers

Stan Fischler
By:

If the supreme boss of an NHL team tells his son – who had been the team’s leading scorer – he’s no longer good enough to make the club, how could the son possibly outwit his dad and get back on the squad? Stan Fischler explains…

If the supreme boss of an NHL team tells his son – who had been the team’s leading scorer – he’s no longer good enough to make the club, how could the son possibly outwit his dad and get back on the squad?

This curious generational battle – won by the son – involved one of the NHL’s foremost powerbrokers, New York Rangers GM-president Lester ‘The Silver Fox’ Patrick, who demanded his oldest son, Lynn, a Hall of Fame left winger, not return to the Blueshirts lineup in October 1945 at the age of 33.

Lynn had been the Blueshirts’ leading goal-scorer in 1941-42 and was the apple of Lester’s eye not only because he spearheaded New York to first place in the seven-team NHL. He made the patriotic Silver Fox even more proud after the 1942-43 season when he enlisted in the U.S. Army with his brother, ‘Muzz,’ who had joined two years earlier.

Massive enlistments of stars into the Canadian and American armed forces decimated NHL lineups during the Second World War, but no team suffered more than the Rangers. With the war well underway, Lynn became a first lieutenant in the military police while Muzz was appointed troop commander prior to the Allies’ invasion of North Africa.

Apart from having lost Lynn, Blueshirts coach Frank Boucher watched his leading scorer, Bryan Hextall, leave for the war, as well as a whole line combination comprised of the Colville Brothers, Neil and Mac, with Alex Shibicky. Goalie ‘Sugar’ Jim Henry went into the Canadian army while captain of the 1940 Cup-winning Rangers, Hall of Fame defenseman Art Coulter, joined the U.S. Coast Guard.

By 1944-45, not a single member of the ’41-42 first-place Rangers was left on the roster. Not surprisingly, the Blueshirts had plummeted to last place in ’42-43 and remained there for the duration of the war.

“It was a travesty,” said coach Boucher, who had skated for two New York Cup-winners before retiring in 1938. “We tried to find some sort of acceptable lineup and in desperation I came out of retirement to try to help. I played 15 games, got four goals and 10 assists and I outscored 19 other players we tried that season. I was 42 years old and hadn’t played a game in five years.”

Lynn, Muzz and all the other Rangers-turned-servicemen from that ’41-42 first-place team survived the war. Only one of them, Coulter, retired. But Lynn didn’t get the same message as Coulter did. He wanted his job back, even though Lester adamantly asserted that Lynn’s legs were gone and told his son to forget about a comeback.

That should have been the end of it. After all, when your old man is New York’s boss of all hockey bosses and he says you’re done, you should look for a day job. But Lynn outsmarted the Silver Fox and got back his Blueshirts jersey because the law was on his side.

“I was in no shape to play,” Lynn said. “But I was protected by the G.I. Bill of Rights. It guaranteed every returning serviceman his old job back.”

Sure enough, Lester was compelled to put his determined son in the 1945-46 lineup with Muzz, the Colville Brothers and Shibicky, none of whom retained their pre-war sharpness. As author Eric Whitehead wrote in his book, The Patrick’s: Hockey’s Royal Family, “The G.I. Bill was a curse on the Rangers’ house.”

Despite their good intentions, the returning vets broke any Rangers progress and were so testily derided by the Manhattan media that Boucher convened a meeting with the press.

“The G.I. Bill guarantees my players the opportunity and we must give it to them,” Boucher said. “Give them a chance.”

The reporters were understanding, but the club again plumbed subterranean depths, finishing 10 points out of fifth place and 15 away from a playoff berth.

After the disastrous season, both Patrick brothers retired, as did Shibicky and Neil Colville. Lester couldn’t even wait that long. On Feb. 22, 1946, the Patricks’ patriarch walked through a sleet storm to Madison Square Garden. He took an elevator to the third floor and handed his typed resignation to MSG president John Reed Kilpatrick, who adored the Silver Fox and urged him not to quit.

“It’s time I stepped down,” said Lester with finality, then shook hands and walked out.

Lester might have also told Kilpatrick that had it not been for his upstart son and the G.I. Bill of Rights, he would not have been so wronged.

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How a post-war family squabble ruined the Rangers