Rod Gilbert, the Hall of Fame hockey player known as Mr. Ranger, has died at age 80, the New York Rangers announced in a statement on Sunday night.
The team’s announcement did not include Gilbert’s cause of death or where he died.
Gilbert played more than 1,000 career N.H.L. games, all with the Rangers. His 406 goals and 1,021 points are both Rangers franchise records. He had four seasons with at least 80 points, including in 1971-72 when he had 43 goals and 54 assists. But even before he reached the N.H.L., Gilbert had to overcome a significant injury.
He had learned he’d been selected as an emergency call-up to the Rangers, but while playing in a junior game in 1960, he skated over debris and fell into the boards, sustaining an injury that required spinal fusion surgery. He played part of the 1965-66 season before needing to undergo a second spinal fusion procedure. But his career was far from over, as he’d be part of a top offensive unit, the Rangers’ Goal-a-Game line.
“I’ve found that if you don’t love the city, the city won’t love you,” Gilbert wrote in a piece for The New York Times in March 1977. He said he yearned to do more promotion of Ranger games, to help connect players and their fans. Later that year, the Rangers announced they were releasing him, at age 36. The team’s general manager at the time said he considered Gilbert’s best years behind him. We “feel we have some younger players in New Haven that can do the job,” the general manager, John Ferguson, said at the time.
“He’s been a great player over the years,” he said. “But he’s 36, and that was basically the whole decision. We were concerned about his play.”
But Gilbert’s desire to cheer the sport he loved did not wane. “Four decades since he played his final game,” The Times wrote in 2017, Gilbert “revels in traversing the arena on game nights with the same enthusiasm with which he skated as part of the GAG line with Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield in the 1960s and ’70s.”
In a statement on Sunday, Gary Bettman, the N.H.L. commissioner, lauded Gilbert for his contributions on and off the ice, adding that Gilbert was devoted to several charitable causes.
“As a player, he was revered by his teammates, respected by his opponents and absolutely beloved by Rangers’ fans,” Bettman said. “The game has lost a true friend.”
The Rangers said Gilbert was survived by his wife, Judy; his siblings, Jean Marie and André; his children, Chantal, Justin, Holly, and Brooke; and seven grandchildren.
Evan Easterling contributed reporting.