50 Years Ago in Hockey – Rangers French Line Flying High

When most hockey fans mention the phrase ‘Flying Frenchmen’, the names of legendary Montreal Canadien superstars come to mind – players like Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Toe Blake, Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat.  In New York, however, Ranger hockey fans have their own new generation of French-Canadian stars worthy of  admiration.

Sullivan assembled line last season

While wide-spread success has eluded him the past two seasons, Ranger coach Red Sullivan made one very astute move last year that has paid off in spades.  Sullivan lined up veteran winger Camille Henry on the left side with budding superstar Rod Gilbert on the right.  He then took another vet, Phil Goyette, plunked him in the middle and watched the magic develop.

Henry, Gilbert each have scored 18

Henry and Gilbert have each scored 18 goals, and both were voted to the NHL Second All-Star team for the first half of the season.  Goyette has nine, but has piled up the assists, thanks to his sharp-shooting wingers.

Henry, the slightly built lifetime Ranger with an amazing knack around the net, is most appreciative of Goyette’s playmaking abilities.  His contract calls for a $500 bonus at 20 goals and another $500 for every five goals thereafter.  He and Gilbert sat down with Toronto Star’s Red Burnett:

“Phil is the most underrated centre in the league in my estimation.  He is the main reason why Rod and I have 18 goals each.  Goyette would have more than nine himself if he’d shoot more instead of taking a bruising from rival defencemen to set up a play for us.

Camille Henry says Phil Goyette is 3rd best NHL centre
Camille Henry says Phil Goyette is 3rd best NHL centre

“I got five goals last weekend, two in Chicago and three in Detroit and also all the stories.  But those five goals came on perfect set-ups from Phil.

“Phil froze the defence, hesitated long enough until I managed to shake my check and move into the clear and then the pass was on my stick light as a feather.  All I had to do was put the puck into the net.

“I think Goyette was the third best centre in the league during the first 35 games. I rated only Detroit’s Norm Ullman and Leafs’ Bob Pulford ahead of him.  I personally didn’t think Stan Mikita had a good first half despite his point total.

“Phil is a magician with that puck and he often gets knocked flat on his pants making sure that the pass is timed just right to send either Rod or I into the clear.”

Gilbert learning from Phil

Young Gilbert credits Goyette with his rapid development.

Rod Gilbert: Goyette is best thing to happen to me as a pro.

“Goyette is the best thing that has happened to me since I turned pro.  You don’t have to look for Phil.  All you have to do is get into position and he’ll get the puck to you.  Camille and I would have more than 20 goals each if we cashed all the payoff passes Phil has set up for us.”

Goyette weighs in at only 145 pounds and is often called “The Splendid Splinter” by New York scribes.  He was acquired a year ago last June from the Montreal Canadiens in a blockbuster trade that saw seven players, including goaltenders Jacques Plante and Gump Worsley, exchange uniforms.  Away from the rink, he looks more like the type who would be more comfortable carrying a brief case to and from an office every day.

Phil Goyette as a Canadien.
Phil Goyette as a Canadien.

With Canadiens, Goyette was always behind Beliveau, Henri Richard or Ralph Backstrom to compete for playing time, so the trade to New York was a huge break for his career.  He did score 21 for the Habs in 1959-60 before netting 24 last year in his finest big-league season.

Henry always a Ranger

Henry has always been part of the Ranger organization, coming to the big club in 1953-54 after a successful junior career in Quebec City.  He won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie that season after scoring 24 goals.  Some guy named Beliveau came second.

Camille Henry against Toronto in his rookie season.
Camille Henry against Toronto in his rookie season.

Back troubles and inconsistency plagued the man they call “The Eel” and he ended up in the American Hockey League where his production was the stuff legends are made of.  In 1956-57, after scoring 31 goals in 29 games for Providence, the Rangers recalled him for the last half of the season, and he has never looked back.

His best season so far was in 1962-63 when he fired 37 goals for the Rangers and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.

Camille Henry, during the 62-63 season, scoring on Toronto's Don Simmons
Camille Henry, during the 62-63 season, scoring on Toronto’s Don Simmons

Back woes nearly ended Gilbert’s career

Gilbert, 23, the young winger with the matinee-idol looks, has also had his share of back woes. Despite spinal fusion surgery, he has overcome the pain and the odds to flourish along side veterans Henry and Goyette.

Gilbert was born in Montreal, but was literally stolen right from under the noses of the vaunted Canadiens.  A Montreal scout named Yvon Prud’homme was given permission by the Habs to run a junior team not far from the Forum.  Prud’homme discovered Gilbert and Jean Ratelle (now also with New York) and helped in their development, and also in their signing C-forms with the Rangers.  That led to the pair ending up with the Guelph Biltmores in the Ontario Hockey Association, where Rod became captain.

Rod captained the 59-60 Guelph Biltmores in the OHA
Rod captained the 59-60 Guelph Biltmores in the OHA

Gilbert noticed back pain becoming increasingly worse at the end of the 1960-61 season.  He was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where spinal fusion surgery was performed.  The process involved taking a piece of bone from Gilbert’s shin and implanting it in the spine.  Immediately after the surgery, infection set in the leg and for a time, it was feared amputation of the limb would be necessary.

Rod initially thought that his hockey days were over, but the surgery was so successful, and his recovery so complete, that he resumed play, and by 1962 he was ready for full-time duty in New York.

Gilbert scored 24 goals last season and is on his way to another career-best total this time around.

With new general manager Emile Francis continuing to add pieces, and young players developing and gaining experience, it’s clear that brighter days are ahead for the Rangers.  The troika of Goyette, Henry and Gilbert is sure to play a major role in the success that seems to be just around the corner.

Emile Francis: Rangers GM will build around youngsters like Gilbert, Ratelle
Emile Francis: Rangers GM will build around youngsters like Gilbert, Ratelle

NHL: Second goalie to dress in playoffs

The NHL is expected to approve a rule that will become in effect for this year’s playoff rounds that will stipulate that teams must have a back up goalkeeper dressed and on the bench during all games.

Chicago Black Hawks co-owner Jim Norris said that the league may extend the rule to apply to all league games starting next season.

Hawks' owner doesn't want fans to wait for goalies.
Hawks’ owner doesn’t want fans to wait for goalies.

Rule may become permanent

“The rule will only cover the playoffs this time, but we hope it can become a regular season practice in deference to those fans who now must wait 20 minutes or so if an emergency goalie has to dress and warm up.”

This season, every team in the league, except the Boston Bruins, is carrying two goaltenders.  Norris feels that the Bruins should be compelled to carry another netminder, rule or no rule, for the rest of this season.

“It would be a catastrophe if Eddie Johnston were hurt in Chicago some night and we had to provide the Bruins with a goalie, as the rule now requires.  That would set the game back 10 years.”

Ed Johnston  is the only solo netminder in the NHL this year.
Ed Johnston is the only solo netminder in the NHL this year.

The governors proposed the rule for this year’s playoffs to try to avoid what happened last year.  Detroit’s Terry Sawchuk twice had to be removed from games due to a recurring back injury.  The switch to an emergency goaltender took upwards of 25 minutes each time.

Just this past weekend in Chicago, a similar occurrence took place.  Rangers starting goaltender Jacques Plante was injured.  Back-up Marcel Paille was available and in the stands, but it still took 20 minutes for him to be ready to play.



2 thoughts on “50 Years Ago in Hockey – Rangers French Line Flying High”

  1. When Rod Gilbert came to NY his name was pronounced Gilbert with a hard ‘G’. It took a little while to call him Jil bere’. My friend and Photographer Dan Balliotti photographed his wedding.

    • I remember that well Marc. I am having a video archivist I know check for footage from the 1962 playoffs – I think Bill Hewitt may have called him with the hard “G” in one of those games.

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