Rod Gilbert: Mr. Ranger
I was gutted to hear of the passing of my father’s childhood idol and Ranger legend, Rod Gilbert on Sunday evening at the age of 80. Growing up, he was the the center piece of countless stories passed along to me by my father and his brothers and I forged many of my own in my dozen plus encounters with the Rangers all time leading goal and point scorer. It feels overused when I read “no one had a bad thing to say about him”, but with Mr. Gilbert it was true. The epitome of class whose outreach across the New York City community surpassed all that he ever did on the ice in his hall of fame career.
My first time meeting Mr. Gilbert was at a Garden of Dreams event at Chelsea Piers in January 2003. I was a hockey obsessed kid, 2 months shy of my 9th birthday and my father (who never got the chance to play as a kid) might as well have been 12, living his dream by skating with his idol. I think I came in second in the priority rankings that day, rightfully so. Mr. Gilbert talked with us for seemingly the whole afternoon, asking me to help him teach others how to properly stop and complimenting my father in his Ranger jersey and hockey gloves telling him, “You look like one of us!” in his elegant French-Canadian accent. This was the first of many encounters I had with one of hockey’s greatest ambassadors. Whether it at fan fests before a playoff game, running into him out in the Garden Concourse and having him stop to chat for a minute, which he seemingly always had time for, or helping escort my father and I to our seats for an early season matchup with a hearty “Welcome back to the Garden, we all missed you guys.” Always with a smile on his face.
The first New York Ranger to have his jersey retired won’t be there to see my childhood idol have his jersey join his in the Garden Rafters. He won’t be there for me to bump into in between periods, or to greet us as we head up to our seats, or to ask a young red head to help him teach others how to skate, and that breaks my heart. I hope his legacy isn’t lost on mine and younger generations, for Mr. Gilbert was “Mr. Ranger”. He was my father’s and many others of his age’s favorite player. He is a hockey legend, but by all accounts an even better person. I am thankful to have had so many encounters with such a lovely man, and that my dad got to brush off the notion that you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Madison Square Garden will never be the same.
Rod Gilbert was the best…and I am going to miss him dearly.