By Jeff Freier on January 19th, 2010 2:36 PM
We all know about the great athletes in New York sports history – Babe Ruth, Tom Seaver, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Namath, Mark Messier, Walt Frazier – and even the busts – Ed Whitson, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Stephon Marbury, Scott Gomez. But what about the slightly-to-highly-above-average athlete? The kind-of-great but not all-timer? They may not have been Hall-of-Famers, but they were All-Stars, fan favorites, cogs on a championship team or maybe even just pretty darn good. They’re the little brother that didn’t hog all the attention. But they’re certainly worth talking about and remembering. So when do they get their due? Well, now they will. Here is a series of the not-quite-legendary in New York sports history.
After starring in Juniors and one year in the minors, New York Ranger left winger Steve Vickers burst onto the NHL scene in the 1972-’73 season by scoring 30 goals and winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the rookie of the year. He netted 30 or more goals in his first four seasons, with a career high of 41 in the 1974-’75 season. He played all 10 years of his career with the Rangers, and totaled 246 goals (good for eighth in franchise history), 340 assists (ninth) and 586 points (eighth). He played on seven different playoff teams for the Blueshirts, and tallied 24 goals and 25 assists in 68 postseason games, and was part of the 1978-’79 squad that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Vickers played in two All-Star games (1975 and ’76), and was named to the NHL All-Star second team for the ’74-’75 season.
For his first few years, Vickers played on the Bulldog Line, with Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairburn, which was one of the best two-way lines in the league when they were together. They could score goals, kill penalties, play on the power play and defend the opposition’s top-scoring line. In the mid-’70s, he sometimes played on the first line, after Vic Hadfield was traded to Pittsburgh, with Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle (or Phil Esposito after Ratelle was traded). (Speaking of which, did Emile Francis break up this team too soon? What could the Rangers have achieved in the mid-part of the decade if they still had Brad Park, Hadfield, Ratelle, Rick Middleton and Curt Bennett while mixing in youngsters like Vickers, Ron Greschner, Dave Maloney and Don Murdoch? The team also had at one time or another Syl Apps, Jr., Red Berenson, Barclay Plager and Moose Dupont, but I digress).
Vickers was an immovable force in front of the net, providing muscle and strength to complement his teammates’ finesse. Besides adding scoring punch, he was also an excellent fighter, though he didn’t drop his gloves very often. In a memorable game in his rookie season, in 1973, against the Big Bad Bruins, who consistently used the Rangers as a piñata in those days, after falling behind to Boston and being roughed up, Vickers punched Don Marcotte’s face in, scored a goal and led the Blueshirts to victory. And the Rangers went on to finally beat the Bruins in the playoffs that spring. Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito had a gang of henchmen to do their dirty work, while, unfortunately, the toughest guys on the Rangers – Vickers, Hadfield and Park – were also the team’s most talented players. The following year, in the brawled-filled seven-game playoff series with the Broad Street Bullies, Vickers once again showed he couldn’t be intimidated by completely pulverizing tough-guy Gary Dornhoefer.
Vickers put his name in the record book by being the first NHL player to record hat tricks in consecutive games (November 12, 1972, vs. LA, and November 15 vs. Philadelphia). He also produced seven points (three goals, four assists) against Washington in 1976, setting a Rangers single-game record. Steve Vickers may not have been one of the top-five greatest players in franchise history, but he was tough, reliable, talented and sported a pretty mean mustache.
(In one of those little coincidences in life, I wrote most of this on Saturday, and while I was watching the Rangers game on Sunday night, who was interviewed between the second and third periods on MSG? None other than Vickers, who talked about most of the above, even the Marcotte fight. Now that’s synchronicity for you.)