So Long, Rod

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Rod Gilbert was a regular for years at the Artists and Writers Celebrity Softball Game in East Hampton, shown here in 2012 with writer Mike Lupica. KYRIL BROMLEY

Rod Gilbert, the Hall of Fame hockey player known as “Mr. Ranger” and who called Sag Harbor home for at least a decade, died last Thursday, August 19. He was 80 years old. His death was announced on Sunday by the New York Rangers, who did not give a cause or place of death.

Mr. Gilbert was born in Montreal on July 1, 1941 and grew up as a fan of the home team, the Canadiens. However, it was for the New York Rangers that he played more than 1,000 games during an 18-year career. His 406 goals and 1,021 points are both Rangers franchise records. He had four seasons with at least 80 points, including the 1971-72 season, when he had 43 goals and 54 assists. The New York Times reported on Monday that Mr. Gilbert’s career was even more remarkable because it was almost derailed in its infancy.

In 1960, the 19-year-old was playing for the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters of the Ontario Hockey Association when, on the verge of being promoted to the NHL, he slipped on some garbage strewn on the ice and fell back into the boards, breaking a vertebra in his back and becoming temporarily paralyzed. Corrective surgery went awry and led to hemorrhaging in his leg, and doctors feared amputation would be necessary, but Mr. Gilbert recovered to join the Rangers. He played part of the 1965-66 season before needing to undergo a second spinal fusion procedure. He went on to be part of a top offensive unit, the Rangers’ “Goal-a-Game” line, with Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield. Though Mr. Gilbert did not earn a Stanley Cup during his career, he was a very popular player in New York. He once told The Times, “I’ve found that if you don’t love the city, the city won’t love you.”

A perhaps painful highlight of Mr. Gilbert’s career was in February 1968 when he scored four goals against the Montreal Canadiens. More enjoyable milestones were he played with Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union and he won the Bill Masterson Trophy in 1976 for his perseverance over his back troubles.

Mr. Gilbert, slowed by age and injuries, was released by the Rangers in 1977. According to the general manager at the time, John Ferguson, Mr. Gilbert “was a great player over the years. But he’s 36, and that was basically the whole decision. We were concerned about his play.”

Rather than resent the team’s decision, Mr. Gilbert cheered the Rangers on over the years and was a regular presence at Madison Square Garden. On October 14, 1979, Mr. Gilbert’s number 7 was retired by the Rangers, the first number to be retired by the team.

In a statement released on Sunday, Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, noted that Mr. Gilbert was devoted to several charitable causes and that “as a player, he was revered by his teammates, respected by his opponents and absolutely beloved by Rangers’ fans. The game has lost a true friend.”

Mr. Gilbert was also a regular presence in Sag Harbor, along with his wife, Judy. The couple had been visitors to the East End for many years and initially intended to purchase a home in Montauk. However, unable to get the property they wanted, they bought vacant land on Cliff Drive in the Bay Point neighborhood immediately west of Sag Harbor and built a house there. They subsequently sold that home and bought a second one on Redwood Road in the village. That, in turn, was sold by the couple just this past spring.

The announcement by the Rangers reported that in addition to his wife, Mr. Gilbert was survived by two siblings, Jean Marie and André; his children, Chantal, Justin, Holly, and Brooke; and seven grandchildren.

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