I thought it was kind of funny – I was born in Brooklyn – when one of the Rangers, Bob Nevin, who had been to Toronto, told me, “When I was traded to the Rangers, I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” has happened.” In fact, many of the players never quite started playing in the “States.” When they played at Boston Garden, they said they went to “the Gardens,” a nod to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
However, Long Beach was a place many of the players could relate to. It was a city of about 60,000 inhabitants in the winter, or hockey season, which expanded to 200,000 in the summer. Francis told the players to take their wives and children from Canada to go to Long Beach in the fall, although some players were hesitant — their families stayed in Canada. But those who came when the season ended in early spring and after the end of the school year would all go back. Few of them made New York their year-round home. However, Gilbert became a Manhattanite and part of the cityscape.
The team also practiced on Long Island, at a location called Skateland in New Hyde Park.
But Gilbert loved the city. And while Francis wasn’t happy, Rod found an apartment on the East Side. He hung out with some of the other great athletes and could often be found bocce in the backyard of an Upper East Side restaurant.
As a hockey writer for The Times, I knew he would always be available for a fair quote, win or lose. And the Rangers had become winners. At one point in his career, they made it to the playoffs nine seasons in a row. He peaked at 43 goals in the 1971–72 season.
That was a remarkable achievement, considering he had overcome two spinal injuries that required surgery years earlier. In 1976, he was honored with the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to a player who has shown perseverance despite hardship.
Of course, there were so many other awards. After his 18th season with the team, he left as the club’s career leader in goals (406) and total points (1021). He became the team representative on functions. And finally, in 1982, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. His No. 7 hangs from the garden spruce.