An AP Veteran Recalls the Old NY Rangers

Lots of low points, but still his favorite


85-year-old Hal Bock spent 4 decades at The Associated Press (AP), penning articles on 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls, 11 Olympics, and everything else in between.

Winning numerous writing awards, not to mentioned publishing 14 sports books, he broke stories such as baseball’s reinstatement of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays after they were banned for working in casinos (1985), and the announcement by tennis star Arthur Ashe that he had contracted the HIV virus (1989).

Hal’s adventures and misadventures in 40 years of chasing sports ranged from getting charged by Triple Crown champion Secretariat during a visit at his stud farm, to being locked inside the Montreal Forum after covering a Stanley Cup playoff game.

Hockey was his biggest passion, especially the New York Rangers organization where he started his professional career in 1961 before moving to AP.

Hal grew close to the ice athletes who made the old and new Madison Square Garden their home during the 1960s and 1970s, even co-authoring the autobiography of the Rangers’ all-time greatest scorer, Rod Gilbert.

The Rangers date back to 1926 as one of the NHL’s ‘Original 6’- Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs. Despite their many low points in the standings, the Rangers always filled up the Garden.

Sports History Weekly asked Hal to reminisce about the old hockey days, which hark to the pre-1967 era before the NHL expansion.

How did you become involved with the NY Rangers and what was your role?

Coming out of the army and about to be married, an old friend, Phil Pepe, suggested I call the Rangers who were looking for a publicity assistant.

Hired by Herb Goren, director of Public Relations, I handled a variety of chores like writing releases, working on programs, and the yearbook.

In my first season, MSG hosted a new event- the Holiday Hockey Tournament- with 4 college teams invited. I was given the job of publicizing the event and putting together the program.

We sold out the building in both nights and on Monday morning I was summoned to the office of Muzz Patrick, team manager. He asked if I had done the publicity and I said I had. He rewarded me with a $25 retroactive raise. It was a lot of money in 1961.

After two seasons with the Rangers and two summers with the AP, I was hired fulltime by the AP in November, 1963, three weeks before JFK was assassinated.

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How were the teams managed back then?

Our 1961 team's general manager was Muzz Patrick, once a Ranger defenseman. The player-coach was defenseman Doug Harvey, who came over from the Montreal Canadiens. He is in the Hall of Fame.

Later, Bernie ‘Boom-Boom’ Geoffrion was the player-coach. When a reporter asked him how to spell the name of Rangers Centre, Walt Tkaczuk, Boomer replied, “Walt''.

Our goalie was Gump Worsley. One time, a writer asked him which team gave him the most trouble and he cracked "the Rangers". An  embarrassing moment.

Were the playing rules back then any different from today?

The rules in that 6-team league were mostly the same with the exception of overtime and shootouts. When the game was tied at the end of 60 minutes, each team got one point and we all went home.


Was there as much fighting on the ice back then?

There were more fights. Most teams had a tough guy like Boston's Ted Green and Detroit's Howie Young. The Rangers were more of a finesse team.

How popular was hockey in New York in the 1960s and what was MSG like?

We had sellout crowds for every game at MSG. Attendance was always 15,925. People said that was how many hockey fans there were in NYC.

Our office had a door that led directly into MSG and I would use that door to enter the arena. I would look down on the ice and see Jacques Plante, or Glenn Hall, or Terry Sawchuk, all Hall of Fame goalies, warming up, and think to myself, Gump is going to have to play a shutout for us to get a point tonight. 

How did the post-1967 expansion affect the game?

Expansion doubled the size of the NHL and brought new teams to the Garden. It took a while to get used to teams like the Blues, Flyers et al.

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How did local fans react when the NY Islanders were launched in 1972?

The addition of the Islanders created a natural New York rivalry. Long Island fans gravitated to the new team. They also hired two old Rangers, Earl Ingarfield and Phil Goyette, as early coaches.

When did the Rangers enjoy their Golden Era?

The Rangers of the 1970s with the GAG line of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield were always challenging for the top spot in their division. Though, they failed in the playoffs.

When was the team's lowest point?

There were low points every year they were eliminated in the playoffs. I will be 85 in May. The Rangers have won two Stanley Cups in my lifetime -1940 and 1994. That's a lot of low points.

What are your most memorable Ranger games?

The last game in the old Garden on 50th Street stands out. They invited an array of hockey greats and I remember Maurice Richard scoring a commemorative goal in pre-game ceremonies.

Which Ranger player and coach did you admire most?

Emile Francis was the coach and general manager and my favorite front-office guy. Rod Gilbert, who joined the team in my second season and is the highest scorer in team history, was my favorite player. I also co-wrote a book with him.

Rod was just a kid when he got to NY and he would hang out in the publicity office.  Anytime we had a request for a player appearance he volunteered. He used those visits to learn English. 

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What are your favorite personal anecdotes about the Rangers and hockey in general?

In my first year, the team practiced in an ice rink above the Garden. We would invite the writers to have lunch in the coffee shop over the rink and watch practice.

It was a little embarrassing when one of our defensemen skating backwards got tangled up in some netting behind the goal and had to be rescued by other players.

My most interesting hockey adventure came when I was covering the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Montreal. I was flying solo with a ton of copy to turn out. When I was done, I was the last guy in the press box. I packed up and headed for the exit but it was locked. I was locked in the Montreal Forum!

I wondered around until I found the freight entrance and a French-Canadian watchman. I remembered my high school French and said, “Ouvrez la porte, s'il vous plait', ' which means open the door, please. He chuckled and let me out on to Ste. Catherine Street.



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