The Rangers' first visit to Brooklyn Wednesday night was more than 70 years in the making, the culmination of a dream that began when a man named Red Dutton tried to move a team there in the 1940s – and blamed the Rangers for failing.
The story is retold in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society, a few subway stops from the Barclays Center, that runs through the end of March and is subtitled “Hockey’s Forgotten Promise.” (Suggested admission for adult non-members is $10.)
It concerns the Brooklyn Americans of 1941-42, a team that played its games at Madison Square Garden, as it had as the New York Americans since bootlegger Bill Dwyer purchased the team in 1925.
But that season it practiced at Brooklyn Ice Palace, about a mile east of the current Barclays Center, to try to establish a beachhead in the borough, where amateur hockey long had been popular.
The idea was to build an NHL arena in Brooklyn, almost on the same spot as Barclays now stands, and move the team there to separate itself from the Rangers – who arrived in the NHL a year later than the Amerks but controlled the Garden.
It never happened.
The Americans finished 16-29-3 that season, compounding existing financial problems that only were made worse by the effects of World War II. The franchise suspended operations before the 1942-43 season.
Dutton, a former player and coach for the Americans and now their league-appointed manager, intended to return to his plan for a Brooklyn-based franchise in 1946 but the league did not support him. He forever blamed the Rangers.
He was said to have put a curse on them that would prevent them from winning another Stanley Cup in his lifetime. He died in 1987; they won in 1994.
The exhibit features memorabilia from the New York Americans eras and a few nuggets from their brief time with “Brooklyn” emblazoned on their sweaters.
One highlight is newsreel footage from their first home game at the Garden as the “Brooklyn” Americans, in which they played the Chicago Black Hawks – the same team the Islanders played in their first home game in Brooklyn.
“Mister,” says the newsreel announcer, “when Brooklyn gets into a sports picture, anything does happen!”
The exhibit acknowledges the Islanders’ arrival this fall, and its connection to their long-ago, would-be brethren.
A caption in the Islanders’ portion of the display reads: “Somewhere, the ghosts of Red Dutton and Big Bill Dwyer are smiling.”