Saturday, February 19, 2011
Rod Gilbert's career almost never happened, as during the 1959-60 season in junior hockey, with one game left in the season, he slipped on some trash thrown on the ice and fell backwards into the boards, fracturing his back and was paralyzed for two months and underwent spinal fusion surgery. He also got an infection in his tibia, raising talk of an amputation, and a staph infection in his back. In total Gilbert required eight months of recovery time.
Fully recovered, he began his career with the Rangers in 1960-61, getting into one game following the conclusion of his junior hockey season. His first NHL goal came in the playoffs following the 1961-62 season when he scored 5 points in 4 games before cracking the Rangers lineup the following season and getting into 70 games in 1962-63, scoring 11 goals and 31 points.
He really made strides in 1963-64, more than doubling his point total from the year prior, with 24 goals and 64 points and playing in the first of eight NHL All-Star Games, followed by another 25 goals and 61 points the next season and another All-Star Game appearance, all while playing with a back brace.
Another back surgery, and an incident while recovering in the hospital when he choked as a result of acute indigestion and was clinically dead for four minutes before being revived, caused him to miss more than half the season in 1965-66, but for the next 11 seasons Gilbert would play in a minimum of 64 games, with 9 of those seasons being 70 games or more.
Gilbert, teamed with center Jean Ratelle, whom Gilbert had played with as early as age 10, and team captain Vic Hadfield on left wing, would form the GAG Line, which stood for "Goal A Game" and would play together in the late 1960's and early 1970's, averaging over a goal a game.
The GAG Line waiting for another opportunity to score
In 1971-72 Ratelle, Hadfield and Gilbert would finish third, fourth and fifth in the NHL scoring race, which included Ratelle missing a month with a broken ankle! The trio was broken up in 1974 when Hadfield was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Gilbert's best seasons were 1971-72, with 43 goals, his career high, and 54 assists for 97 points and his only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, and 1974-75 with 36 goals and 61 assists for a matching 97 points.
The 1975 trade of lifelong friend and linemate Ratelle took away some of Gilbert's spirit and likely hastened the end of his career, as Gilbert only played two more seasons following the trade.
Gilbert in 1975-76 with the Rangers 50th anniversary patch on his jersey
He would maintain his high level of play though, with 86 points in 70 games in 1975-76 and 75 points in 77 games in 1976-77 which included his 1,000th game on December 12, 1976 and his 1,000th point on this date in 1977 during a game in which he scored a goal and an assist against the New York Islanders in his 1,027th game.
As was the case with many players who began playing in the early 60's, his hair grew noticeably longer throughout his career!
He retire after playing 19 games of the 1977-78 season after 19 seasons with 1065 games played, 406 goals and 615 assists for 1,021 points.
Gilbert had his #7 retired by the Rangers in 1979, astonishingly the first Ranger to ever have his number retired in the then 53 years of Rangers history! He was later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.
Internationally, Gilbert played for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, scoring 1 goal and 3 assists in 6 games, and again for Canada in the 1977 World Championships with 4 points in 9 games.
Gilbert posing while wearing the 1972 Summit Series Canada jersey
Today's featured jersey is a 1976-77 New York Rangers Rod Gilbert jersey from his final season in the NHL. This jersey style was first introduced by General Manager John Ferguson Sr. in the 1976-77 season and was the first departure in club history from the iconic diagonal "RANGERS" cresting.
After proving unpopular with the tradition bound Rangers fans, this style was only used for two seasons, the first without names on the back of the road jerseys as featured today, and, thanks to a new NHL rule requiring them, with names on the back for the 1977-78 season. Names were always worn on the home white jerseys of this style.
After being let go by the Rangers in 1978, Ferguson became the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets and reprised the exact same jersey template for the Jets beginning with their inaugural NHL season in 1979, with the only differences being the font for the name and numbers and, naturally, the team logo. The Jets would use this style all throughout the 1980's.
Today's video shows the hight of Gilbert's fame and popularity, as he is featured in a commercial for Mercury cars in 1970.
Next, we are pleased to present the excellent "Legends of Hockey" profile of