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New York’s Jewish Icemen

January 16, 2013 8:33 am 3 comments

Jeff Halpern. Photo: Yossi Goldstein

The Nuclear Winter is over!

Hockey fans the world over, rejoice!

After the National Hockey League Players’ Association and NHL Owners (finally) came to a Collective Bargaining Agreement on whether the millionaires or the billionaires would earn an additional dollar for the next eight-to-ten-years, the regular-season for the NHL is set to begin play by week’s end.

The puck hasn’t yet dropped on the just-call-it 2013 Season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs had the first crack at changing their team perception since the lockout’s end, firing their president and general manager, Brian Burke, and they’ve still managed to lose a game!

It’s true that play has yet to begin and the citizens of Detroit are already in denial that there’s no anchor in the Red Wings’ defense with the number five stitched to his sweater.

The Los Angeles Kings will likely make the post-season to defend their Stanley Cup trophy, but who will join them in this strike-shortened season’s “Race-For-The-Cup”.

Who will dethrone the Kings to ensure Hollywood’s Royalty doesn’t become the first team since the Red Wings of the mid-1990’s to repeat as league champs?

It’s quite possible for the New York Rangers to assume that very role.

After all, the Broadway sextet could fare far better in a sprint rather than a marathon of a season.

Their goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, is in his prime, and it’s been well documented how he hates taking a day off from goal-keeping duties.

A 48-game season for one of the game’s top netminders may be just what the doctor ordered.

On that note, a remedy that was prescribed to the Manhattan club in the extended off-season was their need to shore up their ability to win face-offs when everything is on-the-line, late in a game.

Enter Jeff Halpern.

The Maryland native is coming off his second stint in the Nation’s Capitol. The former Washington Capitals’ captain will soon join a short list of concocted – and real – Jewish hockey players who’ve laced up their skates to perform on Broadway.

“In the Rangers’ first season,” according to NHL historian, Stan Fischler, “the Blueshirts’ press agents Bruno and Blythe decided that aside from an Italian player, the team also needed a Jewish skater to draw attendance from New York’s immigrant community.

The only problem was the team had neither a Jew nor an Italian on their roster. So they created one of each.

“French-Canadian goalie Lorne Chabot became “Chabotsky” for home games. Finnish-Canadian defenseman Oliver Reinkka became Ollie Rocco. Presto; you are now a Jew and an Italian!”

Of the few names that stick out on the small directory of REAL Jewish players are Stanley-Cup winners, Mike Hartman, and two-time Cup winner, Alex “Mine Boy” Levinsky.

Although Hartman only played 36 games with the Rangers over two injury-plagued seasons, his name did manage to make it onto Lord Stanley’s Chalice after the Blueshirts won the Cup in their legendary 1994 title run.

Levinsky, on the other hand, wasn’t well-known for his time playing for the Blueshirt Brotherhood. He suited up one season for the Rangers, and his best years professionally were played off-Broadway in Toronto and Chicago, where he won one Stanley Cup in each city respectively.

The odd nickname that stuck to Levinsky came due to his father, who used to shout at the home games he attended, “That’s Mine Boy!”

Hy Buller is one of the Jewish hockey players who is usually overlooked because he played only parts of five seasons in the Big Leagues, even though he won three minor league championships in the American Hockey League over an eight-year span.

The AHL trophies notwithstanding, the “Blueline Blaster,” in his first full professional season, finished a close second for Rookie-of-the-Year consideration to future Hall-of-Famer Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, and managed to make that year’s All-Star team.

Buller was admired by contemporaries, Gordie Howe, and Maurice “Rocket” Richard; yet, he was most fondly remembered by his late coach, Frank Boucher. “Buller is an exceptional stick-checker, a fine rusher up the ice, and a solid point-man on the Power Play,” Boucher then-noted. “The most noticeable thing about Hy is his coolness under fire. He can adapt himself to any situation.”

Rounding off the “Jew-Crew” is Max Labovitch, who played for both the Rangers and the now-defunct, New York Rovers. Labovitch’s career spanned eight years, but he was mostly an afterthought on his Broadway club, failing to register a single point in his one full season with the team. It’s certainly nice to know there is yet more hockey to be played, and history to be written.

As far as this shortened version of a season is concerned, it certainly will be a doozy in terms of how fast the games will be played, and how meaningful each tilt will mean in the battle for post-season contention.

Although I don’t see Rangers owner James Dolan and others in the team’s upper-management hanging Star-of-David banner’s from the rafters to announce the arrival of Halpern this season, as the Blueshirts did for Buller in the 1950’s, it certainly will be fun to watch the former captain of the Caps performing his best on Broadway, making his landsman proud!

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