Rod Gilbert, the leading scorer in New York Rangers history and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, died Sunday. He was 80 years old.
“Rod Gilbert’s impact on the National Hockey League and the New York Rangers over the past 62 years has been profound, both on and off the ice,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman . “As a player he was revered by his teammates, respected by his opponents and absolutely loved by Rangers fans. In his 18 seasons in the NHL, all with the Rangers, he was one of the greatest offensive players of his time and truly entertained fans all over the world. the League every night.
“His contributions to the game have been rightly recognized by hockey’s highest individual honor: his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982. Rod’s impact on our game has been matched, if not exceeded, upon his retirement. . For 32 years, he was one of the greatest ambassadors our League has seen in its 104 year history. The time he devoted to countless charitable causes and the passion he brought to every interaction with hockey fans not only at Madison Square Garden, but throughout the NHL was both amazing and inspiring. “
Born in Montreal on July 1, 1941, Gilbert signed with New York and also urged Yvon Prudhomme, who was hired by the Rangers to form a Junior B team, to sign his childhood friend Jean Ratelle, who became his center longtime in New York.
After overcoming a broken back and spinal fusion, Gilbert would make his NHL debut at the age of 19 in 1960-61. However, his first big impact came in the spring of 1962, when he was called up in the Stanley Cup playoffs and scored two goals to help the Rangers win Game 4 of the semifinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. .
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Rod Gilbert, one of the greatest Rangers to ever play for our organization and one of the greatest ambassadors hockey has ever had,” said New York Executive Chairman , James Dolan. “While his on-ice accomplishments have made him a Hall of Famer deservedly, it is his love for the Rangers and the people of New York City that has made him endearing to generations of fans and has him. forever earned the title of “Mr. Ranger”. Our hearts go out to Rod’s wife, Judy, and the entire Gilbert family during this difficult time. They will always be part of the Ranger family. “
Gilbert scored 11 goals for the Rangers in 1962-63, his first full season, then scored 24 and 25 the following two seasons, despite wearing a corset due to his back surgery.
He injured his back again in the summer of 1965, but after being operated on again in February 1966, he played the rest of his career without further problems.
Gilbert had consecutive seasons of 77 points in 1967-68 and 1968-69, then scored 30 goals for the first time in 1970-71. His breakout season, however, came in 1971-72, when the trio of Gilbert, Ratelle and Vic Hadfield emerged as one of the best in the NHL. Gilbert finished with 43 goals and 97 points, and the “GAG (Goal-A-Game) Line” helped lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final. But with Ratelle still not fully recovered from a broken ankle, they lost to the Boston Bruins in six games.
Gilbert continued to post big offensive numbers until 1976-77, when he scored 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 77 games. However, the Rangers’ time as a Stanley Cup contender was over and after a slow start the following season, the 36-year-old retired in November 1977.
“Everyone in the Rangers organization mourns the loss of a true New York icon,” said Rangers general manager Chris Drury. “Rod’s remarkable talent and zest for life personified this city and made it endearing to hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike. Young Rangers fan, one of the first names I heard of was Rod Gilbert – he was synonymous with Rangers hockey. . It was an incredible privilege to get to know Rod. His passion and dedication to the Rangers will forever be an inspiration to me.
Gilbert was the first player in New York history to retire his number when they wore his number 7 to the rafters at Madison Square Garden on October 14, 1979. Three years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame hockey.
Throughout his retirement, Gilbert remained very active in the community for a myriad of meritorious causes. Last summer, an ALL-IN Challenge, a global fundraising initiative to fight food insecurity among the needy, raised $ 15,000 for a Rangers game at the Garden. With the current center of the Rangers Mika ZibanejadGilbert had done extensive work during the pandemic for the Robin Hood Relief Fund, benefiting New York nonprofits working on the front lines to help those in need.
“He’s a Ranger through and through,” said Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. “He’s one of those guys who never thought of this. that I did. I remember being a young man and [former Rangers defenseman] Brad Park was a scout and [former Rangers goalie] Eddie Giacomin was helping us train and Rod would come down all the time and he would always pull me aside out of the locker room and give me words of encouragement.
“Brad and Eddie have moved on to different roles outside of the team, but Rod has always been the backbone of Rangers. Even with charity, Rod was the one who jumped on the Ronald McDonald House charity, skating with the greats. They were looking for a current player to do it and I got involved, so Rod and I have been doing it for over 20 years. Rod and Judy have done so much with Ronald McDonald House and all the charities. He would text me all the time about different things and we would chat about it all, so I became friends with him. With his personality, he would always treat you like a friend. There was never anything about the way he was as a player, it was always: ‘Thank you, I miss you my friend, I can’t wait to see you again.’ Nothing to do with hockey. It’s just sad. I thought he was doing fine. He always minimized everything that happened.
NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen and Columnist Dave Stubbs contributed to this report