Lester Patrick And The Secret Trip Of One Lucky Fan
The never-been-told before story of one lucky fan's marvelous Stanley Cup playoffs trip with the 1936-37 New York Rangers.
This story was originally gathered by Alex Shibicky Jr. (son of Rangers 1940 Stanley Cup winner and Bread Line 2.0 left winger Alex Shibicky) nearly twenty years ago. Initially coming into contact through the work of my most recent book about Bill Mosienko (Mosienko grew up idolizing Alex Shibicky in Winnipeg), Alex Jr. has become a good friend of mine over the past year with our phone calls and email correspondence. He has recognized my love for hockey history and has certainly fed into that by sending over photos, scans, and stories from his father’s illustrious hockey career.
You will read more about the life and times of Alex Shibicky in future articles here in this newsletter, but this one is all about former New York Rangers coach Lester Patrick and one lucky fan.
The following account represents the story and the significance behind two miniature 18” hockey sticks that were originally autographed by the 1936-37 New York Rangers on one stick and the 1936-37 New York Americans on the other stick.
The stick belonged to Bill Embrey, a long-time family friend of the Shibicky’s from Kelowna, British Columbia. In 2003, he was having some expensive health problems and had reached out to Alex about selling his piece of memorabilia, and he told him to call their son Alex Jr.
“Dad and I never knew about the piece, and so we talked about it and his situation. Bill wanted to know if he could get $1,000 for it and needed the money immediately, but wanting to help out, I told him that I would give him $2,000 for it, but on one condition – he tell me the full story,” said Alex Shibicky Jr. “We spent several hours on the phone, and I wrote and re-wrote and reviewed each with Bill until we got it right. Knowing what the subject matter was (Lester Patrick), I knew the value of the sticks would do nothing but go up with the passage of time if tied to what I thought was an amazing story. I had him sign and date the final draft for posterity, and I haven’t even looked at it for almost 20 years until I dug it up recently.”
The story begins in the summer of 1936 in Kelowna, where Bill Embrey was on the board of the Kelowna Aquatic Club and, as is customary to this very day, the Club was looking for a celebrity dignitary for the annual Kelowna Regatta. It was known by a few of the other board members that Embrey had gone to high school in Victoria, B.C., with two young sons of Lester Patrick, Lynn and Muzz. It was suggested that Bill use his inside influence to persuade current New York Rangers head coach Lester Patrick to take on the responsibility and the honour of being the Dignitary of the 1936 Regatta. Growing up with the Patrick boys, of course, allowed Bill to know Lester. But it certainly didn’t hurt that Bill had known Rangers stars Neil and Mac Colville, who had grown up in the Edmonton area with Bill prior to Bill moving to Victoria. Since Lynn, Muzz, Mac, and Neil were all current teammates on the New York Rangers, it provided some additional leverage for Bill to convince Lester to attend the Regatta.
When it was all said and done, Lester finally did agree to come out from New York (which back in 1936 was no easy thing) and spend a couple of days in Kelowna before returning. There was also an additional incentive for Lester to come out to Kelowna. Lester’s father had owned a lumber mill during the early 1900s in the Kootenay’s (South Central area of British Columbia) near Kelowna. Another Patrick family friend owned another lumber mill, and he would be attending the Regatta as well.
As it turned out, the decision to make a quick trip out to Kelowna became more accessible and easier for Lester, all things considered. And this is where things started to get a little more complicated for Lester because, when he arrived in Kelowna, he found out that the Colville brothers and Bill were going on a fishing trip after the Regatta. In addition to hockey, Lester had an incredible appetite for fishing, although he very seldom found time to actually go. When Lester arrived in Kelowna, he soon learned about the fishing trip and quickly decided he was going to extend his visit and postpone his immediate return.
The guys had so much fun that they spent an entire week having what Lester said was the best vacation that he had ever had and credited Bill for making it happen. Lester had so much fun and was so thankful that he took Bill aside and made a unique and very confidential offer to Bill. If the Rangers made the playoffs in the upcoming season, Bill would have the distinction of being able to travel with the team for the entire run of the playoffs as Lester’s guest. He was told that he could not tell a soul since Lester did not want anyone to find out due to the special favouritism being extended to Bill and no one else. Bill agreed and actually very soon forgot about the offer as the passing weeks turned into months.
However, in March of 1937, after securing a berth in the playoffs, he received a telegram from Lester saying, “My offer still stands. If you meet us in Toronto, you can travel with the team throughout the playoffs. But you can not tell anyone.” Bill actually got himself into a little bit of a pickle here as he didn’t know how long the playoffs would last and required some kind of blessing from his employer to be gone an indefinite length of time. An international fruit company employed Bill, and when he contacted his superiors, he was met with a response for which he was not prepared. They told Bill that he was okay for up to a three-week holiday to eastern Canada, but it was predicated on his promise to spend one week’s time in the company’s New York office, and, if he did that, they would make all his travel arrangements there and back and pay all his expenses. So picture this, Bill was a 23-year-old mega-hockey fan with an all-expense-paid trip to travel with the New York Rangers, several of whom were dear friends and enjoyed arguably the most incredible vacation any hockey fan could ever dream of. The irony was, of course, that he could tell nobody of the arrangements.
There was some good news and some bad news with the trip. The good news was that the Rangers had beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs and then the Montreal Maroons in the semifinals to advance to the 1937 Stanley Cup finals where they were to meet the Detroit Red Wings. During the whole trip, Bill had attended every game – except one. The one game that he did miss was the final game of the Cup finals that the Rangers lost to Detroit, allowing the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup, which was an anticlimactic way to end the best holiday he ever had.
During his stay and throughout his travels with the team, Bill became very close with the entire Rangers team and also with Harry Westerby, who was the Rangers’ trainer. Harry and Bill became good friends, and it was Harry’s gesture of going to the New York Rangers and having all of them, including Lester, autograph a miniature hockey stick as a souvenir for Bill’s incredible trip. Harry took it one step further and, due to the Rangers’ proximity to the New York Americans hockey team, who shared Madison Square Garden, got the entire New York Americans hockey team to autograph a second stick. Harry then affixed the two sticks together in a cross fashion and presented them to Bill to remember his trip.
Before leaving New York that spring, Lester took Bill aside and, again, reminded him he could not tell anyone about the arrangements that he had made and, besides, he would deny it anyway. True to his word, Bill never told any of his closest friends for over 25 years, and his story is just now being exposed to the public for the very first time.
Bill Embrey passed away a few years later in Kelowna. He was in his early 90’s.
“I remember that Bill was very heartbroken to have missed that final game in Detroit to decide the Cup,” said Alex Shibicky Jr. “He felt that he had jinxed his new extended family – the Rangers!”
Luckily the jinx didn’t last too long as the New York Rangers would win the Stanley Cup just a few years later in 1940.
As for the signed dual-miniature stick, it still belongs in Alex Shibicky Jr’s collection. And that’s where it’s staying for the foreseeable future.
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