[News Archives] A Long, Cold Road to Fame for Andy Bathgate
In a Sports illustrated article titled A Long, Cold Road to Fame dated January 12, 1959, writer Kenneth Rudeen narrates Andy Bathgate's journey from the frozen ponds of Winnipeg to stardom at Madison Square Garden.
Picture a large white frame house in the predawn dark of a Sunday morning in winter. The temperature outside is 25 below zero, and it is too early now for the bitter wind that waits until after dawn to crack its cheeks. In his unheated bedroom a 12-year-old Andy Bathgate is sleeping beneath a pile of blankets. He wears the long underwear that everyone wears, day and night, in that unforgiving climate. The alarm clock rings at 4:30 a.m. The boy gets up, struggles into two pairs of trousers, some sweaters, boots and a parka, runs downstairs to pick up his skates and hockey stick and rushes to the town firehouse to rendezvous with his chums...
In the remaining daylight hours he plays as much hockey as he can on the frigid outdoor rinks of the neighborhood, making trips home for lunch and now and then a mug of hot chocolate beside the stove. At night Andy tunes in a major league hockey game and dreams of future glory.
In those days the Rangers trained in Winnipeg, and Bathgate snatched every opportunity to watch them practice. One day, Bryan Hextall, a Ranger star of the day, noticed the wide-eyed kid, talked to him and began to cadge sticks for him. Most of them were broken, but there was "the odd good stick," and Bathgate's eyes gleam today in the remembrance.
Bathgate's knee issues began in Juniors:
Guelph had a Junior A team for the ablest 17- to 20-year-olds and a Junior B team for the discards. Bathgate was offered $25 a week to play with the Junior Bs but, positive that he was worth the $40 he could earn with the A team, he persuaded the organizers, with the help of his brother, to give him a chance.
On his first shift on the ice in his first game Bathgate took a stiff board check and felt his left knee give way. This was the onset of the knee miseries that still bedevil him. A month later, after no little worry, he was back on the ice wearing a brace and on his way to provincial fame.
Bathgate had his first cup of coffee with the Rangers in 1952. He didn't stick and was sent out to Vancouver. He almost quit hockey, but finally stuck with the Rangers in 1954. He quickly ascended to the top.
Eyebrows were lifted by conservative hockey men when the wise and skeptical New York Herald Tribune writer, Al Laney, declared in this magazine as early as April 1957 that the game's superstars [Richard, Howe, Beliveau, Harvey, Kelly] must make room for Bathgate at the summit.
MSG had small ice, which was not to Bathgate's advantage.
One of the minor tragedies of the New York fans is that Bathgate is not at his absolute best on the small rink in Madison Square Garden. On the larger rinks on the road he has more freedom to do what comes naturally, and he takes advantage of it; he scored 14 of his 21 first-half-season goals in games out of town.
Bathgate was widely considered one of the hardest shots in the game.
Today he mixes the high hard one judiciously with the rest, but even so he is conspicuous for his attempts to score from far out. Occasionally he succeeds spectacularly. For example, in a game last season he cracked a rising slap shot between the top goal post and the shoulder of the startled Montreal goalie, Jacques Plante, from beyond the blue line, about 75 feet away.
"The main thing in shooting," Bathgate says, "is your grip on the stick. You don't have to be big and you don't have to be strong, but you have to have the right grip. People talk a lot about my slap shot—that's an arm shot; you don't break the wrists. But my best shot is a wrist shot with no followthrough. I know exactly where it's going, and I can get it off pretty fast."