The Rangers’ return home Tuesday against the Oilers will be a neat historical bookend to an event at Madison Square Garden 90 years to the day earlier, also featuring teams from New York and Canada.
It was the official opening of the Garden on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street that was in use from 1925 through 1968 — and the debut of professional hockey in New York.
That night it was the New York Americans — not the Rangers, who arrived one season later — against the Montreal Canadiens, who would win, 3-1.
That third Garden, the first to be built nowhere near Madison Square, already had hosted several events, beginning with a six-day cycling race that began Nov. 24, as well as at least one basketball game and two boxing cards.
But all stops were pulled out for the gala grand opening, an event whose proceeds went to the Neurological Institute Society and attracted both sports fans and the cream of New York society, including many women decked out in furs and jewels.
Part of the attraction was the charity component, part the social scene, but much also had to do with curiosity in checking out what The New York Times described as “jaded New York’s newest plaything.”
That would be pro hockey, to that point a Canadian pastime but now a spectacle that attracted what at the time was the largest crowd to watch the sport in the United States — on the country’s largest man-made ice surface.
“No pastime in New York’s long list of pastimes has ever been launched under such favorable circumstances,” said the Times, which dispatched veteran sportswriter Harry Cross to document the big event.
Among the spectators were dignitaries from Canada and the U.S., including New York mayor John Hylan and mayor-elect Jimmy Walker, who awarded the Prince of Wales Trophy to the winners after the game.
(There was not yet an official Canadian national flag, so the flags of the U.S. and Great Britain were hung in the arena.)
In a long, detailed dispatch, Cross called the Garden “the city’s super-structure of athletic pastimes” and “a picture of a temple of sport which, perhaps, has no equal in all the world.”
Between periods there were exhibitions of “fancy skating,” and during the action vendors roamed the stands selling “apples, oranges and souvenir hockey sticks.”
Although the Americans lost, they did score the first goal, with Shorty Green doing the honors.
That was fitting, because Green was indirectly responsible for the event’s existence. The season before he had led a playoff strike by members of the Hamilton Tigers after they had finished first in the league.
The players sought an additional $200 (Canadian) each to account for the six games that had been added to the league schedule that season. The team balked, the players sat out and the playoffs went on without them. That eventually led to the team itself leaving the league and reformulating with many of the same players in New York.
When the Dec. 15 game was over many of the players and spectators moved from the Garden to the Biltmore for a supper dance — with Paul Whiteman’s band playing — and Cross started writing.
“New York is going to like its hockey and like it immensely,” he wrote. “Much water will flow under the Brooklyn Bridge before New York witnesses so much fuss and ostentation as that which attended the Garden’s gala opening and the introduction of pro hockey in Gotham.”
The Oilers’ visit Tuesday is not likely to provide quite so much fuss and ostentation, but you never know.