Thirty years ago this weekend winger Rob McClanahan scored the one and only Hat Trick of his NHL career, as the Rangers skated to an 8-5 victory over the Minnesota North Stars at Madison Square Garden. The 1980 hockey Olympic Gold Medalist played in 141 games over three seasons with the Blueshirts, netting a career-best 22 goals and 48 points with the Rangers in 1982-83. He also spent time in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres and Hartford Whalers.
McClanahan, who is currently a financial broker in his home state of Minnesota, recently chatted with Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com about his Rangers career, playing for legendary coach Herb Brooks with the University of Minnesota, the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team, as well as the Blueshirts, and what made him such a winning player.
BSU: What do you remember about the one Hat Trick you scored for the Rangers back on November 24, 1982?
RM: Ironically it could not have come against a better team for me, the North Stars from my hometown. But what I remember most is driving to the game that night and traffic was horrific, and I was probably an hour late. So I got fined for being an hour late, had no time to get ready, hustled to get my stuff on, get on the ice, and things just went right that night against Don Beaupre, who was the goalie. If that's what it takes to get a Hat Trick, I would have done it every game!
BSU: What was your Madison Square Garden playing experience like?
RM: Here's the thing about The Garden---and it just wasn't (the night of the Hat Trick) or the playoffs, when I came in with the Sabres, I loved to play at The Garden. Nobody else did, everyone thought it was a big pain, but I thought the fans were terrific. The fans could be tough on certain players---they certainly ripped on (Denis) Potvin all the time---but they were passionate and loyal to the Rangers. While I was there (after being traded from Buffalo) we delivered a pretty good product. So my memories of the place are not just of the night of the Hat Trick, but there are fond memories of a great supporting fan base that absolutely loves the game of hockey and their New York Rangers.
BSU: When I say "New York Rangers", what do those words make you think?
RM: I was obviously proud that I played for the team, and I always wanted to perform well for the fans and for the organization. While I was playing we gave the Islanders their best shot during those years they were winning all the Cups. It was just unfortunate we ran into a buzzsaw. Herbie (Coach Herb Brooks) did a great job with us. We won 40 games a few times, which are pretty darn good seasons. The interesting thing is we had the same lock on Philly as the Islanders had on us. We'd always butt heads in the playoffs with Philly and we did a pretty darn good job against them, our speed was just too much for them.
BSU: You played for the Herb Brooks in college, with the 1980 US Olympic team, and with the Rangers. How would you describe him as a coach?
RM: I look back on it, all the mind games and how he kicked our tails in practices, but every single guy who played for him would say they would play for him tomorrow if given that chance. He was a master at motivating. He wasn't our friend, he was our coach, and there was that separation. And there was always a method to his madness---like when we moved on from college to the Olympics he refined some of his methods and training tactics. We might have worked ridiculously hard, but there was always recovery time, and we were by far in the best shape of any team in that Olympic tournament. Herbie knew what buttons to push, and when it mattered the most he got his players playing at the highest level.
BSU: Tell us about your confrontation with Herb following the first period of the first game of the Olympics in 1980?
RM: Back in the locker room after that first period against Sweden, Herbie came in and chewed me a new one in front of everyone...and I had seen him do this to other players over the years. He challenged me and took me completely by surprise---though he always picked his spots and only did it to players he knew could handle it---and I got up and was completely ticked off. We started screaming at each other and I was a second away from throwing a punch, but guys grabbed my shoulders and he turned around and walked out. I followed him out into the hallway and we kept screaming out there, so much so that the Swedish locker room was right next to ours and Swedish players came out and saw and had to be thinking that first period, first game of the Olympic tournament and the U.S. team is already having a meltdown!
BSU: But things worked out---you scored 5 goals and recorded 8 points in 7 games, and scored the Gold Medal-winning goal.
RM: It's funny, I never thought about it like that. Herbie knew what buttons to push, not just with me, but with pretty much every player he coached. The key to the success of Herb Brooks at every level he coached at is he got his players to play at their highest level at the most important times. Plain and simple.
BSU: Was Brooks different at all when he coached you with the Rangers?
RM: In some regards it was easier playing for Herb (with the Rangers) because I knew what to expect, and he probably played fewer mind games with the Rangers and the other pro teams he coached. What he did so well in the pros is getting his leaders to buy into what he was doing, and then everyone else followed.
BSU: How would you like Ranger fans to remember Rob McClanahan?
RM: I worked hard. If I had any special talent or ability, it was probably my skating above anything else. I didn't shoot the puck particularly hard and I wasn't the biggest kid out there, but I worked my butt off. I took pride in everything I did. I won't say it was simple, but it worked for me. That's what Rob McClanhan was all about.