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Andy Bathgate, former Rangers standout winger, dies at 83

Rangers forward Andy Bathgate was a standout

Rangers forward Andy Bathgate was a standout at Madison Square Garden in the 1950s and early '60s. He died Thursday at age 83. Credit: AP

Andy Bathgate, a prolific right wing and Hockey Hall of Famer whose retired No. 9 Rangers jersey hangs in the rafters at Madison Square Garden, died Thursday at age 83. The Rangers and the Hockey Hall of Fame confirmed the death but did not give a cause.

Bathgate leaves behind a legacy that stretched from his hometown of Winnipeg to his ascension as a star and fan favorite in New York in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1958-59, he became the first Ranger to score 40 goals in a season (70 games) and was awarded the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. In 719 games as a Ranger over 12 seasons, he had 272 goals and 729 points.

A strong, smooth forward, Bathgate had an extraordinary career. It began with his first call-up during the 1952-53 season and was highlighted by memorable moments:

n In the 1961-62 season, he was named Rangers captain and tied Chicago’s Bobby Hull for most points in the league (84), but he lost the Art Ross Trophy because he had fewer goals than the Golden Jet (50-28).

n His hard slap shot that badly cut the face of Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante on Nov. 1, 1959, changed the look of the modern-day netminder. Plante returned to the ice wearing a mask and established a standard for the game.

n His penalty shot against the Detroit Red Wings on March 14, 1962, lifted the Rangers into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

n During the 1962-63 season, he scored goals in 10 straight games, a mark that still stands.

n When he was traded to the Maple Leafs in a blockbuster deal in 1964, he held every major team scoring record.

n In 1959, he came down strongly on spearing — using a stick on an opponent — as “unchecked brutality” and named six players, including Gordie Howe, in a controversial article ghostwritten by Dave Anderson. Bathgate, who warned that “someone could get killed,” was fined by the NHL.

“Today the New York Rangers and the hockey world lost a beloved and cherished member of its community with the passing of our Legendary Blueshirt, Andy Bathgate,” Rangers president Glen Sather said in a statement. “Andy’s Hall of Fame career and many tremendous accomplishments place him among the greatest players who have ever worn a Rangers jersey. Those fortunate enough to have known him fondly remember how he always carried himself with the utmost class and dignity. The entire Rangers organization sends our most heartfelt condolences to Andy’s wife Merle and the Bathgate family.”

“Andy set the bar for what it means to be a Ranger,” former Ranger great Rod Gilbert said in a statement. “He was a true innovator of the game and my idol. As a young player, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play with him and learn from him. He was class personified, on and off the ice. He will be sorely missed by everyone in the Rangers organization and throughout the hockey world.”

Born on Aug. 28, 1932, Andrew James Bathgate played youth hockey on outdoor rinks and signed a contract to become Rangers property at age 17. He was called up after skating with a junior team, the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, which won the Memorial Cup in 1952.

Bathgate arrived in the NHL at a time when the Rangers, who had won the Stanley Cup in 1940, were struggling. The league was dominated by the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Red Wings. At the Garden, which stood on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets, the team didn’t even practice on the main ice, but in a small rink with aluminum boards on the fourth floor. Boxing, basketball, wrestling, concerts and the circus filled the dates. That frustrated Bathgate, who took shots at management for not bringing in enough talent to compete every season. But that didn’t affect his play.

On Feb. 22, 1964, Bathgate and Don McKenney were sent to Toronto for Dick Duff, Bob Nevin, Rod Seiling, Arnie Brown and Bill Collins, and the Leafs won the Cup. Coach Punch Imlach called Bathgate the final ingredient for success.

The swap, Bathgate later said, “wasn’t a real shock. They were trading away young fellas and other teams were taking out better players . . . I spoke up and they didn’t care for that. I know the resentment was building up and I was traded.”

From Toronto, Bathgate went to Detroit to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He joined the Vancouver Blazers of the World Hockey Association in 1974-75 before hanging up his skates at 42.

On Feb. 22, 2009 — the night that Bathgate’s Rangers jersey was retired along with that of defenseman Harry Howell — Adam Graves, whose No. 9 sweater was retired about three weeks earlier, called Bathgate “the greatest Ranger to ever wear No. 9.”

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement: “Andy Bathgate was a strong leader, a consistently prolific scorer and a fierce competitor. Andy was an All-Star, a Hart Trophy winner, a Stanley Cup champion and a Hall of Famer who earned the respect of the entire hockey world. The NHL family sends heartfelt condolences to his family and his many friends.”

Funeral arrangements were not provided Friday.

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