New Yorkers love Hockey. Many greats have played on Broadway - most notably Frank Boucher, Bill and Bun Cook, Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Phil Esposito, Walt Tkaczuk, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Yet no one, with the possible modern except of Messier, is more popular with Manhattan fans than goalie Eddie Giacomin.
Case in point: Shortly after being traded to Detroit after a brilliant career with the Rangers, Madison Square Gardens fans cheered for Giacomin and the Red Wings and jeered the hometown New York Rangers!! Long time Ranger followers insist that other than the 1994 Stanley Cup victory, there was never a more intensely moving night as November 2, 1975 - the night Eddie came home.
Eddie was born and raised in Sudbury Ontario, where he and his older brother shared one set of goaltending equipment. The older brother had opportunities to play in the minor leagues, but never left Sudbury. In fact Eddie's first pro experience came as a result of his older brother not being able to get time off of work to fill in as an emergency goalie for the EAHL's Washington Eagles. Eddie went instead, and he played extremely well. He went 4-0 with 13 goals against.
That caught the eyes of some of the professional teams. The Providence Reds of the AHL signed him up, but sent him to their farm teams in the EAHL for the first year. By 1960-61 Eddie embarked upon a long career with the AHL Reds. He was the workhorse puck stopper for the Reds until 1965. He played admirably and that caught the attention of the NHL. Reportedly the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and the Rangers were all after the services of Giacomin. The Rangers won out, by sending 4 players to the Reds - Marcel Paille, Aldo Guidolin, Buzz Deschamps and Jim Mikol.
Known for his acrobatic, sprawling style of goaltending, along with his dangerous wandering far from his crease to get a loose puck and pass it to a breaking teammate, Giacomin joined the Rangers in 1965 in the midst of a rebuilding era. Jacques Plante and Paille split the duties of puck stopping the year before. Plante retired and Paille of course was traded for Eddie. But Eddie's first season was far from a storybook tale - he didn't look great in a 8-19-7 campaign which saw the fans boo the unknown goalie. He was even demoted to the minors at one point.
By his second season things had changed. Giacomin's heroics led the Rangers into the playoffs and earned a First Team All Star selection. He led the league in games played (68) wins (30) and shutouts (9). Suddenly Eddie was the talk of Manhattan.
Giacomin went on to be the Rangers work-horse in the nets for the next 10 seasons. He led the league in wins the following two seasons (recording 36 and 37 respectively) and twice led the league in shutouts. During those seasons the Rangers were never a true powerhouse in the same way Boston and Montreal were at that time, but Giacomin's play made them a surprising playoff team that everyone feared facing. The Rangers would go on to pull of some of the most surprising upsets in the NHL playoff history, such as the defending champs Boston in 1973, and Montreal in 1972 and 1974 -largely because of Eddie.
Towards the end of his career, Giacomin was placed on waivers in 1975 and picked up by Detroit where he finished his career finished his career in Detroit. He played three seasons in Detroit, without much success. But will be forever remembered for his days as a Ranger. To this day the fans in Madison Square Gardens chant his name.
So why would the Rangers let Eddie go - and get nothing in return? Eddie shared his thoughts on that in Dick Irvin's book In The Crease.
"As I look back, and I don't know if I'm right and I don't know if I'll ever find out because Emile Francis doesn't say too much, but I think when I was put on waivers it was already a foregone conclusion that Detroit was going to pick me up. I think it was to pay back a little debt for what happened in 1970 when the Montreal Canadiens got knocked out of the playoffs by the Rangers. Detroit came into New York the last day of that season for an afternoon game. It meant nothing to them and they left a bunch of players home. We pulverized them, beat them 9-5. We had to make sure we finished the season with more goals than Montreal. I was sitting on the bench for three of the Detroit goals because they kept pulling me to an extra skater on, especially during power plays. Roger Crozier was in goal for Detroit and we must have had 60 shots on him. That night Montreal played in Chicago and pulled their goalie all night and got beaten 10-2. Both teams had the same point total, but we made the playoffs because we scored two more goals. Deep down I really think that what happened to me was a pay back to Detroit."
How popular was Eddie? Once he was invited on the Johnny Carson show. Eddie was to demonstrate his superior puck stopping ability while taking slap shots from the legendary Boom Boom Geoffrion. Then Johnny Carson would put on the pads and do the same. Boom Boom deliberately put the first shot wide, but the thundering bang it made spooked Carson. He decided for the next shot he'd place his catching glove over his crotch. Eddie stepped in and told him that was not the proper way to play, and Johnny quipped "you play goal your way, I'll play my way!"
Eddie actually missed a week of action because of the appearance on the Johnny Carson show. One of Geoffrion's shots hit Eddie in the Adam's Apple and he couldn't talk for days. Of course Eddie was from the old days where goalies didn't wear a mask. We are unsure if Johnny Carson had one or not.
Eddie's jersey number 1 has been retired by the Rangers and he is a member of Hockey's Hall of Fame. He appeared in 610 NHL contests, winning 289, losing 208 while tying 97. He had 54 career shutouts and led the league in that category 3 times. He shared the Vezina trophy with partner Gilles Villemure in 1971 and was a participant in the midseason all star game 6 times.