Another New York sports icon from the 1960s and 1970s was lost over the weekend as the hockey world lost Rangers great Rod Gilbert at the age of 80, almost one year to the day after the Big Apple lost Mets franchise legend, Tom Seaver.
While baseball’s lofty standing as “America’s Pastime” gives the sport and its heroes more of a reach across the decades, the outpouring of affection following Gilbert’s loss is a true testament to just how transcendental he was as “Mr. Ranger” — providing New Yorkers of an entire generation with a consummate, enigmatic superstar that spent 18 years as a Blueshirt.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Rod Gilbert – one of the greatest Rangers to ever play for our organization and one of the greatest ambassadors the game of hockey has ever had,” Rangers owner James Dolan said. “While his on-ice achievements rightly made him a Hall of Famer, it was his love for the Rangers and the people of New York that endeared him to generations of fans and forever earned him the title, ‘Mr. Ranger.’ Our thoughts are with Rod’s wife, Judy, and the entire Gilbert family during this difficult time. They will always be a part of the Rangers family.”
Between 1960-1977, Gilbert established or matched 20 team scoring records and remains the Rangers’ all-time leader in goals (406) and points (1,021). At the time of his retirement, he ranked second only to Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, in points scored by a right-winger in NHL history.
“Everyone in the Rangers organization mourns the loss of a true New York icon,” Rangers president and GM Chris Drury said. “Rod’s remarkable talent and zest for life personified this city and endeared him to hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike. Growing up a young Rangers fan, one of the first names I ever heard about was Rod Gilbert – he was synonymous with Rangers hockey. It was an incredible privilege to get to know Rod. His passion and dedication to the Rangers will forever be a source of inspiration for me.”
The Montreal native was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982, transitioning into a front-office role with the Rangers, most notably as a director of special projects and community relations where he grew the franchise’s alumni organization, committed countless hours with the Garden of Dreams Foundation, and always had time for fans.
“Rod Gilbert’s impact on the National Hockey League and the New York Rangers over the past 62 years was profound — both on and off the ice,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “As a player, he was revered by his teammates, respected by his opponents, and absolutely beloved by Rangers’ fans. Throughout his 18 NHL seasons, all with the Rangers, he was among the greatest offensive players of his era and truly entertained fans across the League on a nightly basis.”
Gilbert’s charity work also expanded outside of the Rangers, as he and his wife Judy served on the board of the Ronald McDonald House.
“The passing of [Rod Gilbert] stuns me to the core,” long-time and famed New York hockey analyst Stan Fischler wrote. “Suffice to say that in all my half-century-plus on the beat I never met a player who combined talent, niceness, love of New York, and his hockey club more than Rod… Rod was a mensch among the mensches.”