by George Grimm
Armed with a slapshot that earned him the nickname “Smokey” because it was said he could “knock the sap out of the wood of his stick”, Jack Egers was destined for stardom. Unfortunately a series of injuries including a concussion hampered and ultimately shortened his career.
Egers a native of Sudbury Ontario, was selected in the fourth round (20th overall) of the 1966 Amateur Draft, three rounds after the Blueshirts chose Brad Park with the second overall pick.
Jack Egers: “When we were kids we didn’t even know there was a draft. They talked to our parents, back in those days they had a junior team in Kitchener, the Kitchener Rangers and I was just a 15-year-old kid playing hockey up in Sudbury and they came around to talk to my parents about going down to Kitchener to play Junior B hockey to start with because I was 15. My parents signed what they called a “C” form which basically turned me over to the New York Rangers. They paid for my schooling, room and board and gave us $10 a week spending money while we played Junior hockey in Kitchener. I played four years there, Junior B until I was 17 and then I played two years Junior A with the Kitchener Rangers. And then from there I went on to Omaha for a couple of years and then I was brought up to the parent club at the end of the 1969-70 season.”
After leading the OHA in scoring with 53 goals and 37 assists in 54 games in his final season in Kitchener, Egers moved up to the Rangers farm club in Omaha where he played for Larry Popein. In his first year as a pro, Egers started off well, scoring 28 goals with 30 assists in 58 games. The next season he exploded for 42 goals with 48 assists and led the league in scoring and earned a berth on the CHL’s first All-Star team.
The lanky (6 foot – 1, 175 pound) 20-year old was called up to the Rangers for the last five games of the 1969-70 season when Vic Hadfield suffered a broken ankle. The Blueshirts were desperately trying to make the playoffs after falling into a late season slump and Egers was slotted into Hadfield’s left wing spot alongside Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert.
With just one game remaining, the best the Rangers could do was tie Montreal for the last playoff spot. But to do that, they would need to beat Detroit at the Garden on Sunday afternoon while the Canadiens would have to lose to Chicago that night. That would put the two teams in a virtual dead heat with the same number of Wins, Losses, and Ties. The next tie-breaker would be goals scored and Montreal already had a four-goal edge going into Sunday’s game. So the Rangers would not only need to beat Detroit, they’d have to score at least five goals and hope that Chicago would beat and also shut down the Flying Frenchmen. Quite a task indeed, but the Rangers did it, outshooting the Red Wings by a record 65-22 margin and beating them 9-5. Later that evening the Black Hawks who were involved in their own race with Boston for first place in the Eastern Division beat the Canadiens 10-2.
Jack Egers: “That was a Sunday afternoon game at the Garden. I’ll never forget it. We knew we had to score as many goals as we could. it didn’t matter how many were scored against us because that was the tie breaker – goals for. After that season, it was changed. So fortunately I was able to get a couple of goals and we ended up beating Detroit 9-5 and then we had to sit around to see how Montreal did that night against Chicago. I think Montreal had to score five goals to knock us out, but they couldn’t do it. I think they lost 10-2 in Chicago.”
The Rangers then met Boston in the opening round of the playoffs and Egers played well.
Jack Egers: “I scored three goals against Boston, so personally it was a good playoff. Unfortunately we lost in six.”
The next season Egers made the team out of training camp but on November 22, 1970 he suffered a concussion when hit by North Star rookie defenseman Fred Barrett as he got off a slap shot from the blueline. The sound of Egers’ head hitting the ice could be heard throughout Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately Egers was knocked unconscious and had swallowed his tongue. Only the fast action of Ranger trainer Frank Paice, who used forceps to free the tongue from Jack’s throat saved the young player’s life.
Jack Egers: “I don’t remember any of it. My wife Wendy filled me in about what happened. I was carted off on a stretcher I guess but I know Barrett caught me with an elbow coming out from a slap shot and I don’t remember anything after that. But I know I had symptoms like numbness in my fingers and toes for the rest of that year and didn’t play that much.”
Concussions were handled much differently back then.
Jack Egers: “For my concussion I went to the hospital overnight for observation and then a couple of days later I was practicing. But the only criteria then was that I had to wear a helmet for a couple of weeks. That’s just the way it was back then. But now, mandatory helmets came along in the 80’s and I wouldn’t be surprised if visors become mandatory before too long. Once the NFL started getting lawsuits against them the NHL started their Concussion Protocol real quick. Now they have to get checked out by a doctor. It was a different era, a different time.”
The concussion was a setback for Egers who registered only 7 goals and 10 assists in 60 games that season. Early the next season he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues along with Andre “Moose” Dupont and Mike Murphy for Gene Carr, Jim Lorentz, and Wayne Connelly.
Jack Egers: “Yeah they traded me the day my daughter was born. Wendy gave birth to my daughter and “the Cat” (Emile “The Cat” Francis) called me that afternoon and I thought he was calling to congratulate me on my daughter being born. He said ‘I heard it’s been a big day for you’ And I said ‘it sure has Cat’ So he says, ‘well I got some more good news for you, you’ve been traded to St. Louis and they want you in Detroit tomorrow night.’ So I had to fly out the next morning to Detroit.
It was a different era, a phone call and you’re gone. I knew guys that found out they were traded when they reported to training camp. Like if they went away for the summer. I remember Paul Curtis came back to St. Louis and didn’t know he’d been traded. I guess they didn’t know how to get a hold of him. He left his car with me to look after because he was going back to Texas where his wife was from. He called to see how the car was and I said ‘Gee I’m sorry to hear about you getting traded to L.A.’ He says ‘What? I’ve been traded?'”
Jack regained his scoring touch in St. Louis, recording 45 goals and 94 points over two seasons with the Blues. He also had the pleasure of scoring a hat trick against his former team in February of 1972. It was the Blues only victory over the Rangers that season.
Jack Egers: “Luckily we won the game. It wouldn’t have meant anything if we didn’t win. But I remember jumping up and down on that day.”
Jack also remembers making a discovery about former teammate Andre “Moose” Dupont that was overlooked by both the Rangers and the Blues.
Jack Egers: “He got traded to Philly and we were in there playing a regular season game. He’d been playing well and I was lined up to take shots in warmups and I asked him, ‘what happened to you, you’ve been playing so well.’ So he says ‘I could never read the clock so they took me and got me these contact lenses and now I can see.’ If you remember when ‘Moose’ was in New York he made a lot of blind passes right up the middle right onto the other teams sticks and I guess he just couldn’t see that good. So Shero figured it out pretty quickly In Philly and got him contacts and he had a great career “
Early in the 1973-74 season, with Larry “Pope” Popein coaching the Rangers, Jack was traded back to the Blueshirts in exchange for Glen Sather and Rene Villemure.
Jack Egers: “I really think that was Popein. I had a couple of 20-plus goal seasons in St. Louis and I had a slow start to the season because I had knee surgery in the summer for a torn cartilage. I didn’t know it at the time but I just found out in the last few years that when ‘the Cat’ would trade his young players like myself, and Mike Murphy and Andre Dupont, he had a deal with St. Louis or whatever team he was trading with that if they were ever going to trade one of us, that the Rangers had first right to refuse.
And at that time ‘Pope’ was brought in to coach and he wasn’t doing very well and I think because I played so well under him in Omaha I think he wanted me. Let me put it this way, when my name came up that St. Louis wanted to trade me, I think ‘Pope’ went to ‘the Cat’ and told him I would like to have Jack back. Unfortunately when they got me back I had a knee problem and had to have surgery again. It was one of the injuries that plagued my career all the way through.
Larry Popein was great for me. I had nothing against him at all. He was a disciplinarian. You did it his way or you didn’t play. But it was good for young kids. The Central Hockey League was a training ground for young kids coming out of juniors and ‘Pope’ was a good guy to have because you didn’t stray too far from the way he wanted you to play. And I think young guys like myself needed that. But ‘Pope’ didn’t know how to handle the stars. He treated everyone the same and I think you gotta give them a little leeway.
I think ‘the Cat’ was just a great guy, and again, it the era but he was dictatorial, it was his way or the highway and he never got too close to anybody as far as being friendly but he would joke and kid around with you. But it was a time that the coach was the coach and if you didn’t do what the coach wanted you sat on your ass. But what I really appreciated about him was that if there was a mistake made on the ice when you went in the dressing room between periods, he would point out the mistake but he wouldn’t point out the player. He would say here’s the mistake we made and you knew it was you and everybody in the room knew it was you but he didn’t point at you. He was very fair. He had the respect of the players and that’s why ‘Pope’ didn’t do so well and ‘the Cat’ had to come back.”
Jack was left unprotected in the 1974 Expansion Draft and was selected by the Washington Capitals. Unfortunately once again injuries forced him to the sidelines.
Jack Egers: “Washington drafted me and in the 12th game of the season I herniated a disk and had to have surgery. Then they screwed up, putting me on the ice too soon and I re-herniated it and had to have another back surgery and then I tried to come back from that but I couldn’t. I was done in the 75-76 season.”
The Caps wanted Jack to go to the minors to work himself into condition but he refused. Egers then hired an agent named Richard Sorkin to settle his contract with the Caps. Unfortunately Sorkin gambled away Egers settlement as well as the accounts of at least 50 other athletes that he represented, Sorkin was found guilty of grand larceny in 1978 and sentenced to prison. No restitution was ever made to any of Sorkin’s victims.
After retiring from hockey Egers became a firefighter in Kitchener Ontario, ascending to the rank of Captain. He retired in 2009.
Like most players of his day Jack is amazed at the way salaries have escalated.
Jack Egers: “It was a different time. You didn’t negotiate your contract. You just went in and they told you what you were gonna make. I remember going in that year after I got called up and ‘the Cat’ says ‘Jack we’re gonna pay you $18,500.’ Okay Mr. Francis thank you very much. Now they’ve got agents and multi-million dollar contracts and it’s just hard to fathom.”
Jack played in 111 games with the Rangers over four seasons scoring 13 goals with 14 assists with 72 penalty minutes. He also added 4 goals and an assist in eight playoff games. Overall in 284 NHL games he registered 64 goals with 69 assists and 154 penalty minutes. In 32 playoff games he totaled 5 goals and 6 assists.
Jack Egers had a brief but memorable NHL career. He was a good hockey player with a great slapshot, but unfortunately, because of a string of injuries, he was never able to fully live up to his potential.