July 15, 2014

New York Rangers Goaltending Great Chuck Rayner

"Charlie Rayner was the greatest goaltender I ever saw and that includes Jacques Plante," said Fred Shero once. The former player turned coaching legend saw a lot of goalies, and knew a thing or two about the game.

Charlie Rayner was a fantastic netminder with some pretty weak teams. He played from 1940 through 1953, first appearing with the lowly New York Americans before switching dressing rooms at Madison Square Gardens and become a legend of the New York Rangers.

The wavy-haired goalie "had a lion's courage and the artistry of a ballet-master," once wrote Stan Fischler. He would have been an exciting goalie to watch. He was known as the master of the splits. He was also very good. In 1950 he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP.

He was also innovative. While many credit Johnny Bower for perfecting the poke-check, Bower points to Rayner.

"I owe a lot of my success to Prince Charlie. Chuck was the person who taught me the pokecheck while I was with the Rangers in 1953-54. I really appreciate what he did for me in my career."

"You would be going in on Charlie and that stick would come out like a serpent’s tongue," once explained Toronto Maple Leafs scoring great Teeder Kennedy.

Rayner was also a rare breed. He liked to rush up ice and try and score a goal. He once succeeded, he insisted, albeit not in a NHL contest.

"I was on a Navy team during World War II," he said. "Like so many service teams, we had a lot of big leaguers on our roster, so, in a sense, it was like playing in a regular NHL game. Bill Carse was on the Army team from Vancouver. Carse had a terrific shot and he let one go that hit me so hard it bounced pretty far out. Instinctively I went for the rebound until I realized that I was pretty far away out of the net. The problem was I couldn't stop. But I looked up and saw that there was nobody ahead of me. Nobody but Art Jones (the Army goalie). I thought 'By golly, Chuck, the best thing to do is keep going.' So, I kept going. Before I knew it, I was face to face with Art Jones. He was so stunned by the sight of me with the pads on, skating right at him that he didn't know what to do. I just the let the puck go, hoping and praying that something good would come of it. The puck went by Jones about half-way up on the stick side."

Did he ever come close to scoring in an actual NHL game?

"I got to the blueline against Toronto one night. They had pulled Broda for an extra attacker late in the game. I stopped the puck and shot it down the ice. It bounced off the boards and suddenly, it started going straight for the empty net. Well, you could have heard a pin drop in Madison Square Garden, the people were so quiet. But at the last moment, it swerved and missed going in by just a couple of inches."

Another neat Rayner story - the night Rangers coach Frank Boucher experimented with the idea of a two goalie system. The Rangers had Rayner and Sugar Jim Henry change every few minutes in the same manner they changed their defensemen.

"Frank switched us every third line," recalled Rayner. "If that wasn't strange enough, picture this: when I skated off to the bench and Sugar Jim came on the ice we would meet at the blue line and stand there for a few seconds like we were exchanging secrets. The truth was that the club only had one set of goalie gloves."

Despite his career losing record, Chuck Rayner is rightfully enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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