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Rangers Legends: Bill Cook

Pat Rice

bill cook

Very little is known about Ranger players before 1960.  Many good and even great ones donned the blue jersey and one of them was a true pioneer of the game, Bill Cook.

Born in 1895, he was 30 when he arrived in New York, due to playing for Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League and participating in World War I with the Canadian army, where he participated in battles such as the Somme and Ypres.  Returning home, he went to Saskatchewan when he was awarded farm land there for serving in the Great War.  After four productive years playing with the Saskatoon Sheiks/Crescents, where he led the league in scoring three times and in goals twice, he landed with the Rangers when the Western League folded after the 1925-26 season. 

The word “great” is probably the most overused word in sports, but it can be used to describe Cook, a right wing who stood 5-10, 172 pounds.  He was signed by the Rangers for their inaugural 1926-27 season, and went on to become an integral part of two Stanley Cup championships in 1928 and 1933. Cook was the first captain in Ranger history – all eleven years he played for the Blueshirts.  He was part of the Bread Line, one of the NHL’s first famous lines, along with his brother, Bun Cook, and Frank Boucher.   The trio finished as team’s top three scorers the first five years in team history.  A chance to begin a coaching career prompted him to retire 21 games into his final year, eventually coaching the Rangers in 50-51 and 51-52.  In 1952, he was the first Ranger to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

How great was Bill Cook?  Obviously, he is in the Hall of Fame.  He was known as the best RW in the game when he retired and Boucher has called him the best RW ever, better than either Gordie Howe or Rocket Richard.  Joe Primeau, an opponent with the Toronto Maple Leafs, had this to say about Cook:  “Nobody fooled around with Bill because he was tough.  Real tough.  Bill was the best (right winger) we ever played against.”

Cook was very physical, going through opponents instead of around them, similar to Howe.  He had great skills, a nose for the net, plus a hard wrist shot from close in, and could score equally well backhand or forehand, according to Boucher.  Rarely did he miss time with injuries, playing 454 games out of a possible 460 from 1926-27 through 1935-36 and playing every game eight times.  *Please note, he retired during his final season of 1936-37 and the league played fewer games, 44 through 1930-31 and 48 after that.

His play on the Bread Line with his brother and Boucher had some say they played the game with the same speed, beauty, and crisscrossing creativity as the Soviet teams of decades later.  Frank Selke, who the trophy is named after, commented on how each member constantly worked into an open spot, passing the puck carefully, and frequently pushing the puck into an open net after confusing the opposing team.

Cook led the league in scoring twice, in 1926-27 and 1932-33, and was in the Top Ten seven straight years, from 26-27 to 1932-33.  The 50-point total was topped twice in 1929-30 and 1932-33, while he had over 40 points in 1930-31 and 1931-32.    With seasons of 44 games and 48 games, his 50-point seasons were the equivalent of scoring approximately 90 points in today’s game.  His 59 points in 44 games during the 29-30 season is the equivalent of 109 points in today’s game.

He also led the league in goals scored three times in 1926-27, 1931-32, and 1932-33, and placed in the Top Ten his first seven years with the Rangers plus 1934-35.  He topped the 30-goal mark three times, between ‘21 and ‘29 three times, with three more seasons scoring in the teens.  His 33-goal mark in 44 games for 26-27 is the equivalent of scoring 60 goals today.  His least productive full season scoring goals with the Rangers was 33-34, when he scored 13 goals in 48 games, the equivalent of a 22-goal season in today’s game; keep in mind he was 38 years old.

Cook made first team All-NHL three times, in 1930-31, 1931-32, 1932-33, and made the second team in 1933-34.  In total, he scored 228 goals in eleven seasons, with a lifetime scoring total with the Rangers of 228-138-367 in 475 games.  Those 475 games are six full seasons in today’s NHL and those 228 goals would average out to 38 goals per season, something the Rangers could use today.  Please note, his last two years netted seven goals and one goal, respectively, with his last season at 40 years of age.

When it comes to totals in Ranger history, Cook is as good as any.  He led the team in scoring four times, during the 26-27, 30-31, 31-32, and 32-33 seasons.  He is currently 10th all-time in Ranger history with 229 goals.  The top two scorers are Rod Gilbert with 406 and Jean Ratelle with 336.  Gilbert played 1,065 games and Ratelle played in 862.  Cook played in 474 games and his 229 goals give him a goals per game percentage of .483, the best percentage among Ranger Top Ten goal scorers.  Ratelle is third with .389 and Gilbert is fourth with .381, edging out Andy Bathgate, for fifth at .379.  Camille Henry is second with .402.

As for goals per game all-time, Cook is fifth, according to hockey-reference.com, but he is the best of long-time Rangers.  The players ahead of him are Pat Verbeek at .58, Mike Gartner at .54, Walt Poddubny at .51, and Pierre Larouche at .49.  Verbeek played a total of 88 games with the Rangers, having a great year in 1995-96 with 41 goals in 69 games.  He played for five teams and is better known as a Devil.  Poddubny only played two years with Rangers, 86-87 and 87-88, and played with five teams, including three with the Devils.  Larouche played for four teams, including the last five of his career with the Rangers.  His first year, 1983-84, he scored 48 goals and totaled 123 in those five years.  Gartner, a popular Ranger when he was there, played five seasons and played with five teams in his twenty-year career.  The four ahead of Cook also played with the Rangers from 1983-84 and 1995-1996, an era was scoring was higher than the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Other accomplishments included eleven career hat tricks, scoring the first goal in Rangers history, scoring the overtime goal to give the Rangers the Stanley Cup in 1933, and a lifetime playoff scoring total of 13-11-24 in 46 games.   In addition, to the Hockey Hall of Fame, he is also in International Hall of Fame and AHL Hall of Fame.  In addition to his brother Bun, he had another brother, Bud, spend some time in the NHL.  Bill Cook wore No. 5 and it is a shame his number was never retired by the Rangers.  It’s never too late and two Rangers who have worn it since are Dan Girardi and Barry Beck.  Cook died of cancer on May 5, 1986.   If anyone can be called Mr. Ranger, it’s Cook.

The article has references from the following:

Hockey-reference.com

HockeyDB.com

NY Rangers web site

Joe Pelletier’s Greatest Hockey Legends web site, including comments by Keith Lenn

Blueshirt Banter web site

New York Times

Hockey Hall of Fame web site

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame site

New York Rangers: Greatest Moments and players, by Stan Fischler

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Posted on May 23, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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