Alex Shibicky played eight seasons in the National Hockey League, and he would have played more had it not been for the war. A left-winger for the New York Rangers, Shibicky and 11 of his teammates joined the Canadian and American services in September, 1942. The Rangers were devastated by the loss, falling from first place to the cellar in one year. Shibicky, however, was not entirely out of hockey. Milt Schmidt of Boston’s famed Kraut Line had joined Canada’s Air Force the previous year and had led that service’s team to the top prize in Canadian amateur hockey. “When I joined up, Army morale was really down because the Air Force had won the Allan Cup,” says Shibicky, now 80 and living in White Rock, B.C. “I got a call from some guy in Ottawa asking if I would join the Army and play for the commandos.” For one season, Shibicky and a couple of his Ranger mates obliged—and the
commandos won the title in 1943.
Defections to the forces depleted the hockey talent pool, and the NHL considered suspending play. But the Canadian government, citing hockey’s benefit to morale, convinced the league to continue. That decision proved beneficial to a number of young players who got their starts in the later war years. Those years were particularly fruitful for Maurice (Rocket) Richard, who first played for Montreal in 1942 and did not go to war. Richard blossomed into a scoring sensation and, in 19441945, he recorded the league’s first 50-goal season.
When the war in Europe was over, hockey-star veterans returned to their teams. Shibicky went straight to the Rangers’ camp—‘We didn’t even have time to go home and see our parents.” Six days later, in the season opener against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Rangers won and Shibicky was named first star. Then, the team boarded a train for Detroit, where Shibicky scored the winner. But he also suffered a groin injury that knocked him out of action for weeks. We were so out of shape,” he recalls, “but it was great to be back.”
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