The Circus, The Garden and the Rangers

The Circus, The Garden and the Rangers

A Journey into Hockey

I was saddened to hear of the demise of the Ringling Brothers Barnus and Bailey Circus.

Yes, there were cruelty to animals issues, and that was terrible. We hear that those issues were addressed. But changing times, demographics and tastes apparently doomed what was once described as "The Greatest Show on Ice".

Hockey fans of a certain age also note that hockey connections to the circus.

It was the New York Rangers who were intertwined with the Ringling Brothers circus.

As Gerald Eskenazi recalled in a fascinating NY Times 2014 piece, the circus would come to town each Spring just as the hockey season was reaching its climax. Most years this conflict would not amount to much because the Rangers back then often missed the playoffs.

But there were times that the "Greatest Show on Earth" forced the "World's Fastest Sport" out of the old Garden at 8th Avenue and 49th Street.

You see, back then to convert the Garden from the circus to hockey, eight inches of dirt had to be removed from the floor. That took a day, then another day, to replace it.

And back then, Eskenazi explained, the circus made more money than hockey. So the Rangers were forced to go on the road, often for five games in a row, just as the season wound down and the playoff run was beginning. And worse, the Rangers in 1950 used the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto as their home ice when they were fortunate enough to make the Stanley Cup finals.

There were other times as well - such as in 1927-28 when the Rangers (en route to a Stanley Cup in only their second season) had to play ALL the games in the Montreal Forum against the Maroons.

Or, in 1932  when they were forced to use Boston as their home ice against the Leafs, and in 1940 they won again despite playing Games 3, 4, 5 and 6 on Toronto’s home ice. They were in Toronto again in 1950, this time as the home club, but lost to Detroit.

It was not until years later that the technology would change so as to allow the Rangers to play home games at home in 1967 against Montreal (They would lose 4-0 in their last playoff appearance at the old Garden).

Truly remarkable, but not unusual for the times. Afterall, it was an era in which, wrote Eskenazi, a former hockey columnist for the Times, the Rangers were overshadowed by the three baseball teams — the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Giants — it was simply hockey’s being somewhat alien and not something about which the average fan concerned himself.

Today most Ranger fans can only imagine what it must have like. But to guys like Eskenazi, Stan Fischler and myself, today we recall those days and the times when the circus came to town every Spring.

e are happy for the safety of the animals. At the same time, we are sad for something else that also may have been lost.

The Circus, The Garden and the Rangers The Circus, The Garden and the Rangers