April 24, 2019

Who was William M Jennings?

When last we talked we discussed the evolution of the Vezina Trophy, which included the creation of the William M. Jennings Trophy for the goalies on the team with the fewest goals against.

The obvious next question on this tangent would have to be who was William M. Jennings? Now good hockey fans know Georges Vezina was an early goaltending legend. But you'd be hard pressed to find any hockey fan who knows who William M. Jennings was.

Jennings was an Ivy League lawyer from New York, who despite never playing hockey as a youth became an important player in the history of the New York Rangers. It started was a key lawyer in the acquisition of Madison Square Gardens followed by, starting at the age of just 41, becoming president of the Rangers in 1962.  Under his watch he brought in Emile Francis as his key hockey man and the two returned the Rangers the relevancy over the coming years.

Jennings also worked closely with the NHL on the 1967 expansion and helped spearhead the NHL's first US television deal (with CBS). For his efforts, he was given the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding contributions to hockey in the US in 1971. He was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame the next year.

"I don't think he knew the first thing about hockey when the Rangers thing fell in his lap," Francis said many years later. "But it wasn't long before he was pulling a lot of strings behind the scenes in the league. He was the driving force behind expansion."

Jennings died in 1981 as the 60 year old voracious smoker lost a short battle with throat cancer. When the new goaltending trophy was created shortly thereafter, Jennings was honored by the league in the naming ceremony.

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