The New York Rangers are celebrating their 85th anniversary this season, but they weren’t the first NHL team at Madison Squre Garden. Here’s to the New York Americans, once the toast of the town and feted by the likes of the Astors, Roosevelts and Whitneys.
Pro hockey was still mainly a Canadian concern in 1925 when the Hamilton Tigers ran into financial issues due to a labor dispute, booted from the Stanley Cup playoffs because players objected to a longer season without a pay increase. Big Bill Dwyer, a renowned bootlegger with tons of ties to the underworld, decided to buy the team and move it to New York City, his home base.
The new team, the New York Americans, became just the second American NHL franchise. Dwyer could be a persuasive guy, and he persuaded flamboyant Garden owner Tex Rickard to install cooling equipment to the Garden, thrusting hockey as a big attraction for the world’s most famous arena. The first game, played on Dec. 15, 1925, attracted a capacity crowd of 17,000 to see the Americans take on the Montreal Canadiens, filled with the likes of the Astors, Roosevelts and Whitneys. (It helped that the night was a fundraiser for the Neurological Institute and followed by a ball at the Biltmore.) The Americans were a success and the biggest draw at the Garden that season.
In fact, the Amerks were so much of a success that Rickard went out and got his own hockey team, the Rangers, the very next season. That was pretty much the end, though the Americans certainly had a lot of life left in the team: the likes of Dutch Schultz and Legs Diamond hung around the team, and drinking parties at the team hotel, the Forrest, were common. The end of Prohibition, ironically, helped seal the fate of the team (Dwyer’s other sources of income were cut off by legitimate businesses), and by 1941 the team was basically repossessed by the National Hockey League. The end of the 1942 season saw the end of the Amerks.
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