Everything about the New York Americans was bizarre, from the club’s oddly illegitimate birth to its remarkable involvement in the longest hockey game ever played in the Big Apple.
Let’s start with the fact that the Star-Spangled skaters arrived on Broadway in the fall of 1925 because of an illegal players strike in Canada the previous spring. Angry because they were denied a post-season bonus, the Hamilton Tigers refused to show up for the playoffs. NHL president Frank Calder suspended the strikers and then helped move the Tigers into just-completed Madison Square Garden. Just like that, the Tigers became the New York Americans. Meanwhile, the shadowy, behind-the-scenes enabler happened to be one of the most notorious gangsters of the Roarin’ 20s.
The questionable sugar daddy was Bill Dwyer, who forked over $75,000 for the franchise. Notorious as the prohibition bootleg king of New York State, Dwyer believed his NHL acquisition would give him a patina of legitimacy. And it did, until the Amerks’ home opener Dec. 15, 1925. Alas, the embattled ‘Big Bill’ was in jail. A New York Times headline proclaimed: BIGGEST LIQUOR RING SMASHED; WILLIAM DWYER SEIZED. WIDE BRIBERY CHARGED. Dwyer eventually was freed, but the gangster rep sullied his team’s image. Meanwhile, the Rangers, who shared Garden ice with the Amerks, had managed to become the hockey darlings of the Big Apple. Americans sharpshooter Lorne Carr succinctly summed up the prevailing view: “The press labelled us the ‘Bowery Boys’ and tagged us with a blue-collar identity. When we played each other, you couldn’t get near the Garden. Inside, it would get so loud that you couldn’t hear yourself think. The records also showed that the Rangers almost always won.”
But March 28, 1938, “almost” didn’t count in what evolved as the marathon playoff match of all New York overtime contests. The difference this time was Amerks coach-GM Red Dutton finally crafted a respectable roster that could legitimately challenge boss Lester Patrick’s Blueshirts. Young scoring aces Art Chapman, Dave ‘Sweeney’ Schriner and Carr were complemented by veterans Hap Day and Nels Stewart. The goalies were rookie Earl Robertson for the Americans and vet Davey Kerr on the other side.
The best-of-three series was played at the old Garden and featured crowds that were evenly divided, while all of New York was talking hockey. “By dawn on the 28th, lines had started to form outside the balcony ticket windows on 49th and 50th streets,” wrote Sport Life Magazine editor Bruce Jacobs. “The gallery was packed long before the teams skated out.”
The first period wasn’t without its own incredible episode, engineered by a female Rangers fan disappointed with the scoreless match. Suddenly, the woman stormed goal judge Charles Porteous and pressed the red light buzzer when she thought the Blueshirts had scored. Eventually, the police stepped in to restrain the impulsive female, and referees Bert McCaffery and Ag Smith restored order on the ice.
The Rangers scored two goals in the second period, inspiring Dutton to dramatically alter his strategy. In the third, he inserted five forwards on the ice. The scheme worked after Carr and then Stewart evened the score, forcing overtime. By the end of three sudden-death periods, it was well past 1 a.m. This prompted one fan to return to his seat from a corner tavern. The gentleman had left the arena when the Rangers were up 2-0.
While downing yet another beer in a Broadway bistro, he asked a newcomer, “How da game wind up?”
“Wind up?” the other replied. “Why, they’re still playin’. The score’s 2-2!”
The Amerks fan grabbed his hat and ran back to the Garden as referee Ag Smith dropped the fourth-overtime faceoff puck. Dutton started Schriner, Carr and Chapman, and within 40 seconds they had tic-tac-toed their way to victory after Chapman sent a radar pass to Carr. “I followed my instinct,” Carr remembered. “Shot it and beat Kerr. By the time we finished celebrating, it was after two o’clock in the morning.”
Thus the Americans had their only measure of revenge against the Rangers. “The contest couldn’t have been more adaptable to drama had a script been written by Alfred Hitchcock,” Jacobs concluded.
Or, better yet, Big Bill Dwyer.