Even though the New York Rangers are known as one of the NHL's Original 6 teams, they were not the first hockey team to call New York, or even Madison Square Garden, its home.
Instead, that honor belongs to the New York Americans, a team that lasted for 17 seasons between 1925 and 1942. Not only were the Americans the first professional hockey team to play in New York, their initial success at the box office turned out to be one of the main reasons the Rangers currently exist.
New York meets the NHL
The Americans made their debut during the 1925-26 season, upon completion of the new Madison Square Garden, as one of two expansion teams. They joined the Pittsburgh Pirates, increasing the size of the league from five to seven teams.
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The team was originally owned by Thomas Duggan and professional bootlegger Bill Dwyer (who you might remember hearing about in the history of the Pirates), while most of the roster was made up of players that had previously played for the Hamilton Tigers the previous season.
The Tigers, who had played five seasons in the NHL, ceased operations following the 1924-25 season after players staged what would ultimately be the first player strike in hockey following a revolt over their salaries. With the Americans entering the league and needing players, Dwyer purchased most of the Tigers' roster and gave them substantial pay raises, while the league simply dissolved the Hamilton franchise. The league did not view the Americans as a continuation of the Tigers franchise, but instead an entirely new team.
With a roster now in place, the Americans worked out a deal with Tex Rickard, owner of Madison Square Garden, to play their home games at the newly completed arena because he was convinced New Yorkers would fall in love with the sport. After the Americans were a stunning box office success in their debut season, Rickard decided that not only was New York big enough for a second team, but that he needed a team of his own. He was awarded a franchise the following season.
With that, the New York Rangers were born and the Americans had a natural rival that they would have to share their home building with.
A bad team and a major rule change
While the Americans were initially a popular team with the ticket-buying public, they were not a very good hockey team on the ice.
During their 17-year existence they finished with a winning record only three times and qualified for the postseason just five times, never playing for the Stanley Cup. Their most successful season was perhaps the 1928-29 season when they finished with a 19-13-2 record thanks to an MVP performance from goalie Roy Worters after he was signed from the Pirates. Worters was the first goalie to ever win the Hart Trophy, and it wouldn't be until the 1949-50 season that another would win (Rangers goalie Chuck Rayner).
Worters remains one of just six goalies in NHL history to win the award.
Because they usually lacked the necessary talent to compete with the better teams in the NHL, the Americans did what any other undermanned team would do in a desperate attempt to win -- they did whatever they could to suck the life out of offense, even if it meant playing the most extreme dump-and-chase style of hockey in NHL history.
In the early days of the NHL, icing was not against the rules and teams were allowed to shoot the puck the length of the ice as often as they wanted, forcing their opponent to chase it down and lug it back up the ice. This was never really an issue until the 1931-32 season when the Americans, in a game against the Boston Bruins, are said to have shot the puck the length of the ice out of their own zone more than 50 times while trying to protect a 3-2 lead. The strategy enraged Bruins fans so much that they littered the ice with garbage. Owner Charles Adams petitioned the league to make the play illegal.
In an attempt to exact some revenge in a rematch a few weeks later, the Bruins attempted a similar strategy against the Americans and shot the puck the length of the ice more than 80 times. Not surprisingly, with two teams doing their best to eliminate offense, the game ended in a 0-0 tie.
It would take the NHL until 1937 to actually introduce the icing rule. So you can thank the New York Americans and coach Eddie Gerard for that change to the league.
Modern teams have the neutral zone trap; the New York Americans had unlimited icings.
The end of the line creates the 'Original 6'
By the end of the 1930s and into the 1940s, the NHL had seen several teams fail, from Pittsburgh (later the Philadelphia Quakers), to the Montreal Maroons, to the Ottawa Senators (later the St. Louis Eagles). The Americans were very close to joining their ranks.
New York hockey today
New York hockey today
The team was under new ownership after Dwyer struggled to make ends meet, as the end of prohibition meant the bootlegging industry was no longer working out for him. Now under the control of Red Dutton, the Americans were renamed the Brooklyn Americans for the 1941-42 season due to Dutton's desire to move the team out of Madison Square Garden and into Brooklyn.
But because Brooklyn had no NHL-caliber rink the Americans were forced to play another season in Manhattan. At the same time, several players on the roster had joined the Canadian military, resulting in one of the worst seasons in franchise history. After the season the team decided to suspend operations for the duration of World War II.
That would mark the end of the NHL's "Founding Era" and usher in the start of what is now known as the Original 6 era. The league pushed forward with only the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs until the 1967 season, when it would double in size.
In 1945, with the Americans franchise still suspended, a potential new ownership group had emerged with the intentions of building a new Brooklyn arena to continue the team and turn Dutton's Brooklyn vision into a reality, only to have the NHL refuse to reinstate the franchise.
Starting in 2015, 73 years after the Red Dutton's initial plan to move the NHL to Brooklyn, the league will finally make its way to the borough on a permanent basis when the New York Islanders begin play in the Barclays Center.
photos via Wikipedia