In the summer of 1978, Fred Shero finally got a chance to coach the Rangers. Shero was a former Rangers defenseman who had been coaching in the Blueshirts minor league system for many years during the Emile Francis era. However despite leading his teams to four first place finishes and two league championships, he was bypassed multiple times when Francis made changes behind the Rangers bench. So in 1971 he jumped at the opportunity to coach the Philadelphia Flyers and transformed them into the “Broad Street Bullies” winning two Stanley Cup championships in seven years. However in 1978 both the Flyers and Rangers were ready to make a change in management and “Freddie the Fog” returned to the Blueshirts, signing a five-year deal to be coach and general manager replacing John Ferguson.
In his first season Shero put the Blueshirts back into their traditional uniforms and led them to a 40-29-11 record for 91 points, an 18 point improvement over the previous season and good enough for third place in the Patrick Division..
He then surprised the hockey world, as well as many Ranger fans by marching them past the Kings and Flyers before upsetting the heavily favored Islanders on their way to the Stanley Cup finals against the defending champion Montreal Canadiens, It was their first appearance in the finals since 1972 and only the eighth time in their, then 53 year history that the Rangers made it to the last round of the playoffs. They wouldn’t get that far again for another 15 seasons when they finally broke their 54 year Stanley Cup drought in 1994.
It was a memorable season that has been chronicled quite well by authors Mark Rosenman and Howie Karpin in their new book Before 94 that looks back on that magical time in Blueshirt history.
At its core, Before 94 is a straight forward month-by-month, game-by-game account of the 1978-79 season. But the book is elevated nicely by the commentary from the men who played the games. Rosenman and Karpin diligently interviewed practically every member of that team and many of their stories are priceless. Dave Maloney, who also wrote the Introduction, talks about being named the Rangers youngest captain at age 22. Pat Hickey recalls walking into a New York City bank during the playoffs while it was being held up. Andre Dore speaks about the emotional roller coaster of playing his first game against the Canadiens in the fabled Montreal Forum and then being told he was being sent back to the minors following the game. There are plenty of behind the scenes details, like the bomb threat during the Islander series, and glimpses of Shero’s subtle motivational methods which led more a few of the players to comment that they would have gone through a wall for their coach.
Among the other topics discussed are the additions of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, Don Murdoch’s suspension and reinstatement, the importance of Bobby Sheehan’s insertion into the lineup, John Davidson’s incredible playoff run and of course Denis Potvin’s check on Ulf Nilsson that broke his ankle and prompted the infamous “Potvin Sucks” chant.
Before 94 also answers a couple of questions long-time fans may have had about that season such as why Shero didn’t use Nick Fotiu in the last two rounds of the playoffs when his toughness certainly would have been needed and was it a mistake for the Rangers to stay in Montreal following their Game 1 victory, and did any of the players take advantage of their surroundings instead of preparing for the games ahead.
The book closes with an interesting ‘Where Are They Now’ chapter in which many of the players talk about their favorite memories of that unforgettable season.
Before 94 is Rosenman and Karpin’s fourth book together. They previously collaborated on “Shoot to Thrill”, “Down on the Korner”, and “New York Rangers By the Numbers”.
Before 94 will bring back a lot of memories for those of us who were around back then, as well as help educate younger fans about the Rangers long, storied history. It is a worthy addition to any Ranger fans library.