In the late 1950s and early 1960s, one of the best all-around players in hockey performed for one of the lesser NHL teams- Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers.
I had the opportunity to speak with Andy this week, and it was wonderful to speak with a gentleman who again gave freely of his time- just as he did when I first interviewed him back in 1976.
You can listen to my new interview with Andy here:
Bathgate was a tremendous all-around player- an outstanding playmaker who also happened to score 349 goals in his NHL career when that was a very big number. He added 21 more in only 54 playoff games in the old six-team NHL.
He was a handsome guy and that no doubt netted him extra attention in New York city, but he was a gentleman on and off the ice. When he came to the Maple Leafs in a controversial trade in February of 1964, he wasn’t necessarily embraced with open arms by his new teammates. They had been especially close to Bob Nevin and Dickie Duff who were sent to the Rangers, so the arrival of Bathgate and Don McKenney from the Rangers was likely met with caution.
Bathgate had played in a very open, offensive system with the Rangers. They only made the playoffs on four occasions in his 12 seasons there, so coming to the hockey Mecca where defense was a priority under Punch Imlach was an adjustment for the veteran right-winger. (Bathgate was good enough that he once led the league in scoring. He was four times an end-of-season NHL All-Star and was voted the league MVP in 1959. He was elected, deservedly so, to the Hall-of-Fame in 1978.)
In Toronto, he worked hard to fit in, and scored two huge goals in the 1964 Cup finals against Detroit. The first was the game-winner (a perfectly-placed slapshot while being chased by Marcel Pronovost) in Game 4 at the Olympia. That was a must-win game for Toronto, as they were behind in the series two games to one up to that moment.
The other was a classic- a breakaway from his own blue line in the first five minutes of Game 7 at the Gardens. Bathgate raced the length of the ice, and waited until just the right moment to snap a wrist shot past Terry Sawchuk in the Detroit net. Toronto’s 1-0 lead stood until the third period, when they added three more goals to clinch their third Cup in a row—but the first, and only, of Bathgate’s illustrious career.
Bathgate was later traded to the Red Wings in the deal that brought Marcel Pronovost to the Leafs and Pronovost was a key player in the 1967 Stanley Cup triumph. For his part, Bathgate never quite seemed completely comfortable in Detroit, though he helped them reach the finals against Montreal in 1966.
When expansion came, Andy played a couple of seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins alongside former teammates Kenny Schinkel and Earl Ingarfield. He played a few games in the WHA in the mid-1970s, and still had a scorer’s touch.
I sought him out for an interview when I was a young kid trying to break into broadcasting back in 1976. He readily agreed and shared many great stories. He was such a fine individual to spend time with, and to this day, at age 78, Andy works regularly at his golf range in Mississauga.
While I always loved Dick Duff as a Leaf and was sad to see him traded, Bathgate helped the Leafs win that ’64 Cup, and is one of the games great ambassadors of hockey to this day.