It seemed pretty funny to me – I was born in Brooklyn – when one of the Rangers, Bob Nevin, who had been with Toronto, said to me, “When I was traded to Rangers I thought that it was the worst thing that ever existed. that happened to me. In fact, a lot of players never really started playing in the “States”. When they played at Boston Garden, they said they were going to “Gardens,” a nod to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
Long Beach was a place that many players could relate to, however. It was a town of about 60,000 inhabitants in the winter, or hockey season, which expanded to 200,000 inhabitants in the summer. Francis told the players to bring their wives and children from Canada to start school in the fall in Long Beach, although some players were reluctant – their families remained in Canada. But those who came, at the end of the season in early spring and after the school year closed, returned. Very few of them have made New York their home all year round. Gilbert, however, has become a Manhattanite and part of the cityscape.
The team also trained on Long Island, at a venue called Skateland in New Hyde Park.
But Gilbert loved the city. And while Francis wasn’t happy, Rod found himself an apartment on the East Side. He was hanging out with some of the other great athletes and was often found playing bocce in the courtyard of an Upper East Side restaurant.
As the Times hockey writer I knew he would always be available for an honest quote, win or lose. And the Rangers had become victorious. At one point in his career, they made the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons. He peaked 43 goals in the 1971-72 season.
It was a remarkable achievement considering he had overcome two spinal injuries requiring surgery years earlier. In 1976, he was honored with the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to a player who showed perseverance in the face of hardship.
Of course, there were so many other honors. After his 18th season with the team, he left as the club’s career leader in goals (406) and total points (1,021). He became the representative of the team at the functions. And, finally, in 1982, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. His n ° 7 hangs from the rafters of the Garden.