The National Hockey League lost their second icon in under two weeks Sunday with the announcement of “Mr. Ranger,” Rod Gilbert passing away at the age of 80.
Rod Gilbert, one of the games’ greatest ambassadors on and off the ice, played parts of 18 seasons for the Rangers from 1960-78.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Gilbert remains the Blueshirts career leader in goals (406) and points (1021).
The Rangers legend was the club’s first player to have his number retired and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.
In a team release, team President and General Manager Chris Drury said of Gilbert;
“Everyone in the Rangers organization mourns the loss of a true New York icon. Rod’s remarkable talent and zest for life personified this city and endeared him to hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike. Growing up a young Rangers fan, one of the first names I ever heard about 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 a source of inspiration for me.”
Owner James Dolan stated, “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 the game of hockey has ever had,” said James Dolan, Executive Chairman, Madison Square Garden Sports Corp. “While his on-ice achievements rightly made him a Hall of Famer, it was his love for the Rangers and the people of New York that endeared him to generations of fans and forever earned him the title, ‘Mr. Ranger.’ Our thoughts are with Rod’s wife, Judy, and the entire Gilbert family during this difficult time. They will always be a part of the Rangers family.”
Gilbert forged an outstanding NHL career despite suffering a debilitating injury before it even started. Slipping on debris tossed on the ice while playing junior hockey for the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters in 1960, Gilbert broke a vertebra in his back.
Eventually recovering, Gilbert required a second surgery six years later.
Despite two serious back surgeries, Gilbert notched seven 20-plus goal seasons with the Rangers including a career-high 43 in the 1971-72 campaign. His 97-point total was also a high that was matched in 1974-75.
Playing the right wing on the GAG (Goal a Game ) Line alongside left wing Vic Hadfield and center Jean Ratelle, Gilbert was the kingpin of the Rangers ’71-72 club – leading them to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers lost in six games to the Boston Bruins. That same summer, Gilbert was named to Team Canada and was an integral member of the Summit Series club that defeated Russia in eight games.
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In addition to being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Gilbert was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 1976 for his perseverance, sportsmanship, dedication to hockey; the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1991 for his contribution to hockey in the United States, and was a First and Second Team All Star.
Gilbert also participated in eight All Star Games.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released the following statement on Gilbert’s passing Sunday evening:
“Rod Gilbert’s impact on the National Hockey League and the New York Rangers over the past 62 years was 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 beloved by Rangers’ fans. Throughout his 18 NHL seasons – all with the Rangers, he was among the greatest offensive players of his era and truly entertained fans across the League on a nightly basis. His contributions to the game were appropriately recognized with hockey’s highest individual honor – induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982. Rod’s impact on our game was equaled, if not surpassed, in his retirement. For 32 years, he was one of the greatest ambassadors that our League has seen in its 104-year history. The time that he devoted to countless charitable causes and the passion that he brought to every interaction with hockey fans at not only Madison Square Garden but across the NHL was both incredible and inspiring.”
“On a personal level, I will miss Rod’s friendship and love for the game. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife, Judy and his children Chantal, Justin, Holly, and Brooke and his seven grandchildren. The game has lost a true friend.”