Back in the early 1950s when there were six teams in the NHL and about ninety jobs available, only a few young players were able to break into the league and even fewer who walked away from the game once they got there.
Defenseman Bob Chrystal was one of those players, breaking into the NHL with the New York Rangers at the age of 23 and then walking away from the league just two seasons later.
In his new book “Block That Shot: The Bob Chrystal Story,” a collaboration with author – historian Ty Dilello, Chrystal traces his long journey from local hockey on the streets and rinks of Winnipeg up through juniors, the minor leagues and finally the NHL with the Rangers in 1953.
“Block That Shot: The Bob Chrystal Story” is an interesting, candid account of a hockey player’s on-and-off ice life in the 1940s and 50s when tight-fisted owners and GMs were offering only one-year contracts and very little money.
The former defenseman recalls his childhood growing up in Winnipeg and breaking in with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the MJHL where he took part in the only eight-game Memorial Cup final ever played, He then turned pro with the Denver Falcons of the USHL before moving up to the powerful Cleveland Barons of the AHL where he won a Calder Cup in 1953, scoring the series-winning goal in sudden-death overtime.
He was then brought up to the New York Rangers along with goaltender Johnny Bower in 1953. While in New York, coach Frank Boucher took advantage of Bob’s size (6-foot, 180-pounds) and skating ability and often used him as a checking forward shadowing the likes of Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, “Teeder” Kennedy and Jean Beliveau.
Bob also played for Muzz Patrick in New York and recorded 11 goals and 14 assists with 112 PIM in 132 games over two seasons. Not bad for a 25-year old playing for a non-playoff team. But at the beginning of Bob’s third season the Rangers hired Phil Watson to coach which spelled the end of Chrystal’s Blueshirt career. Watson had a reputation around the league for being a very disagreeable person and for whatever reason he didn’t like Chrystal and as far as Bob was concerned, the feeling was mutual. After a week of Watson’s constant badgering and cursing, Bob took off his skates and walked away from the team. He then played for three more years in the Western Hockey League and retired in 1959 at the age of 29.
Chrystal has a definite link to Ranger history. As a rookie he was on the ice during the famous Boomer Geoffrion – Ron Murphy stick swinging incident in December 1953. He is also probably the only player in hockey history to have played for each member of the Rangers famous “Bread Line” from the 1920’s and 1930’s (Bill Cook, Bun Cook, Frank Boucher) during his time in Denver, Cleveland and New York respectively. Bob also mentions how the players and their wives were warned about the perils of living in New York and recalls the time he was almost robbed outside of the old Madison Square Garden.
Bob also discusses the business side of the game, telling of how he refused to sign a “C” Form when he was a teenager, contract negotiations where he had to fight for every dollar, and the back-door deal that kept him in New York after he had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Black Hawks.
The book is liberally illustrated with newspaper clippings, photos and other mementos from scrapbooks compiled by Bob’s father and features a foreword by former teammate Emile “The Cat” Francis as well as comments from Stan Fischler.
“Block that Shot: The Bob Chrystal Story” offers a glimpse at a simpler time in the NHL. It is a compelling and informative read for anyone interested in the history of the NHL’s Golden Age. It is available on Amazon.com.