The New York Rangers thought they had solidified their goaltending for the foreseeable future in June of 1963 when they acquired Jacques Plante from the Montreal Canadiens in a blockbuster trade. As it turned out, Plante had a nondescript first season with the Rangers in 1963-64 and things went steadily down hill from there. Last season, Plante shared netminding duties with minor-league veteran Marcel Paille. Neither man was able to grab the number one job and run with it, and at the end of the season Plante announced his retirement.
General manager Emile Francis was convinced that the goaltending position had to be solidified, and took steps this summer to rectify the situation. His first move was to trade Paille and three other minor-leaguers to the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League for Eddie Giacomin. At the summer meetings, he engineered a trade with Montreal for Cesare Maniago, once a Toronto farm hand. He then claimed veteran Don Simmons from Toronto in the Inter-league draft. Picking up these three ensured Francis that there will be lots of competition for the Ranger netminding duties this fall.
Let’s take a look at the men who will be competing for the number one goalkeeping job with the Rangers.
Of the three main contenders for the Rangers goaltending job, Don (Dippy) Simmons has by far the most NHL experience. Now 33, the Port Colborne, Ontario native came to the Rangers via this summer’s Inter-league draft after playing for Toronto’s Tulsa (CPHL) farm club last season.
Simmons played a year of Junior A hockey for the St. Catharines Teepees in 1950-51, graduating the next season to Springfield of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League. He became a full-fledged professional with Springfield of the AHL in 1954-55.
When Terry Sawchuk left the Bruins due to illness midway through the 1956-57 season, Simmons was called up to Boston, where he formed a solid netminding duo with veteran Harry Lumley. In this rookie season, he played 26 games, winning 13, losing 9 while tying 4, posting a very acceptable 2.42 goals-against average.
in 1957-58, Simmons became more or less the Bruins’ regular goaltender – at least playing the most games – for two seasons. During the 1959-60 he season became the first goaltender after Jacques Plante to adopt the face mask full time.
Lumley took over most of the playing time that year, and the next season Simmons was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Ed Chadwick. In Toronto, Simmons would spend most of his time as the understudy to Johnny Bower. In the 1962 playoffs, with Bower injured, Simmons found himself in goal, and played a key role, as the Maple Leafs clinched their first Stanley Cup in 11 years
Simmons, who stand five-feet, 10-inches and weighs in at 155 pounds, is an unusual sight for shooters, not only because of the distinctive mask he wears, but also because he is one of the few professional goalkeepers who catches with his right hand. After being a veteran presence on the young Tulsa squad last season, Emile Francis is hoping Simmons can bring that same steadying influence to the Rangers this season.
Tall, lanky Cesare Maniago, who hails from Trail, British Columbia, is given the best shot by most observers to win the Rangers puck stopping job. He was acquired by New York in a trade at the NHL’s June meetings. Maniago and forward Garry Peters, once labelled as a can’t-miss prospect, were traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Rangers in exchange for Earl Ingarfield, Gord Labossiere, Dave McComb and Noel Price. Ingarfield was then drafted from Montreal by New York the very next day.
Maniago came up through Toronto’s St. Michael’s Majors Junior A system. He graduated from St. Mike’s in 1959 and spent the 1959-60 season playing senior A hockey for several Ontario clubs. He turned pro with Sudbury of the Eastern Professional Hockey League in 1960-61. That season, he also spent time in the Western Hockey League with both Spokane and the Vancouver Canucks, and was even called up to the Leafs to fill in for an injured Johnny Bower late in the season.
During that seven-game stint with the Leafs, Maniago was very impressive, compiling a 4-2-1 record. He also won the dubious distinction of being the goaltender who surrendered Bernie (Boom-Boom) Geoffrion’s 50th goal, which tied the mark previously held by Montreal legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard.
Maniago’s play caught the eye of Montreal general manager Frank Selke, who drafted him from the Leafs that summer. Maniago toiled for several Montreal farm teams, but did make it up to the big team in the 62-63 season when Jacques Plante needed injury relief. He wasn’t quite as impressive as he was during his Maple Leaf trial, and became a sort of swing-man for the Montreal organization.
Last season, he spent the entire year on loan from Canadiens to Boston’s Minneapolis farm team in the CPHL. He had a spectacular season, being named the CPHL’s Most Valuable Player, winning the league’s goaltending award, as well as a first-team all-star berth. The Bruins tried to call him up during the season, but the Canadiens blocked the move and eventually made the deal with the Rangers at the end of the season.
Eddie Giacomin, a career minor leaguer at age 26, is the long-shot of the three contenders to start the season with the Rangers. Called by some the best goaltender outside the NHL, Giacomin was acquired from the Providence Reds shortly after the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Rangers, who shipped four players to the AHL club.
Giacomin has taken a circuitous route to the big leagues, and he isn’t there yet. But at every level, he’s done nothing but improve, so Ranger fans shouldn’t discount his chances.
Giacomin never did play junior A hockey, instead playing in various amateur leagues in and around the Sudbury, Ontario area, where he grew up. In 1958-59, while playing for Sudbury Bell Telephone in the Nickel Belt Hockey League, he was asked to fill in for a few games in the semi-pro Eastern Hockey League with the Clinton Comets and the Washington Presidents.
Giacomin played well enough to earn a spot with Clinton the next season, eventually ending up with the New York Rovers of the same league. He filled in for one game with the Providence Reds of the AHL and they liked what they saw of him enough to make him their regular netminder for the 1960-61 season. He’s been with Providence ever since.
Giacomin’s style can be described as unorthodox. Some say he plays too much on his knees, others say he’s often too deep in his net. One thing they all agree on is, even though he doesn’t get any points for style, he does do what he’s paid to do, and that is stop the puck. If he does that for the Rangers, it will make Emile Francis very happy.
Twenty-three-year-old Wayne Rutledge will be in the Rangers training camp this fall, but no one is counting on the Barrie, Ontario native to suit up with the varsity club this season. He will get a good look in camp, but he’s likely slated to be with the Baltimore Clippers of the AHL or the Minnesota Rangers of the CPHL.
Rutledge played his junior hockey with the Barrie and Niagara Falls Flyers. Like many OHA Junior A grads, he spent his next season playing in the OHA Senior A league with the Windsor Bulldogs. When Windsor moved to the IHL for 1963-64, Rutledge was installed as their regular goalkeeper in that semi-pro loop. That led to his first pro season last year with St. Paul (now Minnesota).
Rutledge is a big man, at six-feet, two-inches, and weighs 200 pounds. He takes up a lot of room in front of the net, and is surprisingly agile for a man his size. Should he be able to add some consistency to his game, as he gains experience, he should have a shot at NHL employment, especially with expansion not far off.
Other goaltenders who will be at training camp:
- Andy Brown, 21. Had a solid season with Johnstown of the EHL last year, spends his summers driving stock cars on the Ontario dirt track circuit.
- Gilles Boisvert, 32, a minor league veteran who is likely slated for AHL Baltimore
- Marcel Pelletier, 38, another minor league veteran. Rangers will find a spot for him somewhere, likely in the WHL.