Retro Rangers: McCartan Went from Olympics to Rangers

by | Apr 18, 2024

Retro Rangers: McCartan Went from Olympics to Rangers

by | Apr 18, 2024

Jack McCartan is best remembered for leading the surprising Team USA Hockey squad to the Gold Medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics, but he also had a brief NHL career with the Rangers.

McCartan was born in August 1936 and began playing organized hockey as a high school freshman in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. He then went on to star in hockey as well as baseball at the University of Minnesota, earning All-American honors in both sports.

Following graduation Jack enlisted in the Army and represented the United States in the World Championships in Prague in 1959. He then led the United States Hockey team past the powerful Canadian, Russian and Czechoslovakian squads to capture the Gold Medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, California. Jack posted a 7-0 record with a 2.47 GAA and was  named the “All-World” goaltender of the Winter Games.

Jack McCartan: “The Canadians were the toughest team to play against in the Olympics. There was always a rivalry between us and the Canadians because in the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, the US tteam beat them so they were looking for revenge anytime we played them.

I think the toughest guy to play against was a Russian by the name of Veniamin Alexandrov. He was the fourth leading scorer in the tournament with seven goals and six assists. He was a big, blonde guy with a wicked shot.”

Gerry Cosby, whose New York based sporting goods company supplied Team USA with their iconic uniforms as well as their equipment, played a major role in Jack’s rapid ascent to the NHL.

Cosby, who had backstopped Team USA to a World Championship in Prague in 1933, was the Game Scorer for the tournament and told Rangers GM, Muzz Patrick that McCartan deserved a tryout.

Patrick did indeed sign McCartan to a five-game tryout contract.  Many thought the move was a publicity stunt meant to sell tickets to the remaining games of another dismal season but at that point the Rangers had nothing to lose.  Gump Worsley had been severely injured when Chicago’s Bobby Hull accidentally skated over his hand. Al Rollins had been acquired on loan from the Black Hawks to replace Worsley but with just a few games left in the season, it was a good opportunity to see what McCartan could do.

Jack made his NHL debut on the evening of March 6, 1960 against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden, essentially becoming the Blueshirts’ first American-born netminder. [Note: Long Island, NY native Joe Schaefer, the Rangers house goalie at the time, was called upon to replace Gump Worsley on the night of February 17, 1960 when Bobby Hull accidentally skated over Worsley’s stick hand early in the second period. The 35-year old Schaefer made 17 saves in his nearly two periods of action but surrendered five goals as the Black Hawks skated away with a 5-1 victory.]

McCartan beat the Red Wings 3-1 that night and later told reporters that his biggest save in that game came on his first shot, when Detroit’s Gordie Howe deked around Rangers defenseman Bill Gadsby and came in one-on-one on the rookie netminder. “I hugged the near post, and he faked a shot to the far corner while still holding the puck, Gordie wanted to pull me out of the net and put it behind me. But I was ready for him, and when he took a wrist shot low, I dove at the puck and got my body in front of it for my big first save.”

Jack was officially welcomed to the NHL a few games later when he was sucker punched by tough guy Reggie Fleming of Chicago.

Jack McCartin: “I was in the net and there was a fight between Eddie Shack and Reggie Fleming in the corner to my left.  Reggie picked up a stick but Shack didn’t have one. So I slid mine out to him so he could defend himself, because I didn’t know Reggie,  I didn’t know what he was gonna do. So when everything settled down I skated over to get my stick and Reggie was skating back the other way and when we crossed paths he suckered me.  So I saw a few stars.”

McCartan played well in his next three starts going 1-1-2 overall with a 1.75 GAA in four games.

He returned to the Blueshirts the next season but wasn’t ready for the NHL, especially for a team like the Rangers that needed an extraordinary performance between the pipes every night just to compete with the rest of the league. McCartan spent most of that season with the Kitchener-Waterloo Beavers of the EPHL and appeared in only eight games for the Blueshirts.

Overall in 12 games spanning  two seasons Jack posted a 2-7-3 record with one shutout and a 3.71 GAA. Jack’s lone NHL shutout came on October 19, 1960 against Bobby Hull and the Chicago Black Hawks at Madison Square Garden.

Jack McCartan: “I hadn’t seen a shot that hard in my career.  Hull used to fly down the wing and wind up coming over the blue line.  it was daunting, for sure. He had a hard shot  and then later on in the WHA he had a big curve on his stick  and that was worse yet because the shot was just as hard but now it was dancing, so to speak,  with that curve.”

McCartan was claimed by Chicago in the 1963 Intra-league draft.

Jack McCartan: “I actually didn’t sign my contract when it was up. I had a two-year contract and spent those two years in the Ranger organization, and this was the third year and so I had a contract dispute.  I didn’t report to Chicago right away. But then when I did report, they sent me down to the St. Louis Braves of the Central Hockey League which was their  farm club at the time.”

Jack remained in the minor leagues, mostly in the old Western Hockey League, playing for the Los Angeles Blades, San Francisco Seals, and San Diego Gulls. In 1972, at the age of 37, he signed with the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA and mentored a young Mike Curran who had himself won a Silver Medal in the 1972 Winter Olympics.

Jack McCartan: “I grew up in St. Paul and the Fighting Saints were looking for players. I was 37, at the end of my career, playing in San Diego.  So I had a chance to play with the Fighting Saints which worked out pretty good because we kept our home here in the Twin Cities. But it was a crazy league – you never knew from one day to the next what was going on.”

Despite his success in hockey, McCartan always claimed that baseball was his Number One sport.

Jack McCartan: ”I played a lot more baseball when I was younger  and I was a better baseball player than I was a hockey player.  With hockey I just relied on my athletic ability but I knew more about baseball.

I was a third baseman. I played on a lot of championship baseball teams all the way up from midget through college. We won the NCAA tournament in Minnesota in 1956 and then I played in the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago. So I was more familiar with baseball  whereas hockey was just relying on instincts.”

McCartan retired at the end of the 1974-75 season and scouted for the Hartford Whalers, when they were in the WHA. He then moved on to the Vancouver Canucks and was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

Ever wonder what it would be like if your everyday car was a ZAMBONI?!?!?

Wonder no longer…

Check out The Zambonis' latest hit, "Slow Whip"!