Retro Rangers: Remembering Bob Dill

by | Mar 21, 2024

Retro Rangers: Remembering Bob Dill

by | Mar 21, 2024

Bob Dill was a bruising defenseman who was acquired by the Rangers in January 1944 to add some muscle to their lineup.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in April 1920, Dill played hockey for his local high school,  and then traveled to Florida to play for the Miami Clippers of the four-team Tropical Hockey League in 1938.

Bob Dill Jr.: ”I think my father left high school during his senior year to play professional to help his mother out because his father had died when he was very young and they were very poor at that time.”

Dill’s single season in Miami began a hockey odyssey that took him to Sault Ste. Marie (NMHL), Baltimore (EHL), and then Springfield and Buffalo (AHL).

Bob Dill Jr.: “Eddie Shore had seen him playing for Baltimore and asked him if he wanted to try out for the Springfield Indians. He made the team and I think his first year he got to play alongside Eddie on defense. He enjoyed himself in Springfield. He loved Shore. Everybody has different opinions of Eddie, but my dad thought he was great. He was like his hero. Shore used to bring dad’s mother down from the Twin Cities to watch some game and put her up in a nice hotel for a few days. So Shore must have done some good things on the side that nobody ever heard about. But he was running around changing light bulbs and selling tickets and he expected his players to do the same thing.”

Dill joined the Coast Guard in 1942 and played for the US Coast Guard Cutters team that also included Art Coulter and Johnny Mariucci.

Noted hockey author / historian Stan Fischler remembers Dill and the Cutters very well.

Stan Fischler: “I got to like Bob Dill as a member of the glorious Coast Guard Cutters, playing out of Baltimore in the old EAHL. The Cutters had one of the toughest teams — ever, anywhere, any time. Bob was on D with John Mariucci, Manny Cotlow, and  Art Coulter,  among other toughies.

Dick Young who would become one of the most famous baseball writers for the New York Daily News, adored the Cutters for their toughness. He called them ‘Hooligan’s Navy’ and had numerous lines about them being on the MSG fight card as well.”

Bob Dill Jr.: “They were a bunch of characters. There was one night when they all went out to a restaurant in New York after a game, and Elle Fitzgerald was singing. And my dad was kind of known as a crooner because he liked to sing, and his teammates were giving him the needle that he should go up and sing with Ella. So after the opening act, he disappeared and everyone kept eating their dinner. All of a sudden the main act opened up with Ella and there’s my dad up there with her! They did a whole 20-minute set together.”

In 1943 Dill rejoined the Buffalo Bisons, who were then affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, and was traded to the Rangers for Gordon Davidson and Roger Leger as well as options on Harry Taylor and John Horeck in January 1944. At the time of the trade, Dill was under suspension in the AHL for an incident that occurred on New Year’s night in Pittsburgh with referee Gordon Parsons.

Dill was the first US born high school hockey player to skate for the Rangers and was considered to be an aggressive, but clean, hockey player. At 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, he wasn’t big by today’s standards, but he liked to throw his weight around. He was also the nephew of Minnesota boxing legends Mike and Tommy Gibbons and was a notorious brawler.

Dill quickly became a fan favorite. His role was to try to intimidate opposing forwards while protecting his many smaller, less pugilistic teammates and he soon gained a reputation as the “baddest man in hockey.”

Unfortunately, his reputation suffered a severe blow on the evening of December 17, 1944, as the Rangers hosted the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden. Dill’s assignment, as usual, was to neutralize Maurice “Rocket” Richard.

But on this night, it was Richard’s turn to neutralize Dill. Legend has it that early in the second period the pair tangled and Richard knocked Dill out with a quick punch to the head.

Minutes later while both were seated in the penalty box, Dill began yelling and taunting Richard. Now in those days, there was not a physical barrier between the penalty boxes, just an attendant who sat between the players and tried to keep the peace.

So once the Rocket had heard enough of Dill’s insults, he leaped at the Ranger and caught him with another quick punch, knocking the big guy out for a second time in a matter of minutes.

However, Dill always claimed that he wasn’t knocked out a second time. “Sure, the Rocket and I had a little set-to in that game and he knocked me down and I was groggy,” Bob once told reporters. “And yes, we got penalties. In the box, I called him a dirty so-and-so and he reached over and punched me over the eye. It bled a little, enough for three stitches as I recall. But that was it. There was no second knockout. Jeez, the reporters built it up and the books have been written with the story about how I got beaten up that night. You’d think I had been knocked out for 15 minutes the way it was told.”

Bob Dill Jr.: ”I have the original paper from the famous fight and it does not mention anyone being knocked out, etc. It was described just like my father’s description.

Richard once told me that it was nothing personal, that they even went out and had a few beers afterwards.”

Nevertheless, the episode was depicted in the 2005 French Canadian movie, The Rocket, with former Ranger Sean Avery portraying Dill.

Following the 1944–45 season, Dill played for five more years with the St. Paul Saints of the USHL and wrapped up his career as a player-coach of the Springfield Indians.

Bob Dill Jr.: “Shore called him, I think he needed a coach. But I think he and Shore got into it at the end of that season. Eddie had promised the team an end of the season party but then he backed out, and I think they got into a fist fight over it. But apparently they worked it out and they remained friends.”

In 76 games over two seasons with the Rangers, Dill scored 15 goals with 15 assists for 30 points along with 135 penalty minutes.

During the offseason, Dill played minor league baseball. He was an outfielder for the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, a farm club of the New York Giants, and he later served as a minor league manager.

Retiring after the 1950 season, Dill later worked with the Rangers, Black Hawks and North Stars as a scout and was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979 along with Jack Riley, coach of the 1960 Men’s US Hockey Team that won the Gold Medal at Squaw Valley.


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