In the spring of 1979 Ron Duguay was a 22 year-old high-flying New York Ranger helping lead the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Finals in his second NHL season. Thirty-four years later Duguay is still part of the Rangers family, serving as an analyst on MSG Network.
Just the other day I had the chance to catch up with Duguay to discuss the Rangers of 1979 and their magical run to the Cup Finals, as well as the Rangers of 2013 and what lies ahead for them this summer and into next season. The former is relevant since 1979 was the last time a pair of Original Six teams---the Rangers and Montreal Canadiens---met in the Stanley Cup Finals prior to this year's showdown between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins. The latter is important because, with a new coach on the way, a change in course is coming to the current Rangers.
As for 1979, Duguay spoke of that special spring in a very wistful way. It was as close as he would ever come to winning the Stanley Cup in his career.
"A lot of it is about positive emotion and momentum, and so we felt like we were good enough (in 1979) to win the Stanley Cup," explained Duguay, who scored five goals and totaled nine points during the '79 post-season. "When we looked around the dressing room we felt like all of the pieces were there, so when we marched on to the ice we felt like we were good enough to win. That's half the battle right there. And after we had beaten the Islanders (in the playoff semifinals) we felt we could beat Montreal and win the Stanley Cup."
The Rangers of 1979 were an intriguing mix of youth (Duguay, Don Maloney, Mike McEwen), emerging young veterans (Dave Maloney, Ron Greschner, Steve Vickers, Pat Hickey, John Davidson), and proven veterans (Phil Esposito, Anders Hedberg, Carol Vadnais, Walt Tkaczuk). And unfortunately missing from the post-season was star center Ulf Nilsson, who was sidelined by a fractured ankle---why do you think those Denis Potvin chants still ring out at The Garden even today?!
The team came together in a big way during the playoffs, feeding off Davidson's stellar goaltending, and contributions up and down the lineup. Series wins over the Kings (two-game sweep), Flyers (4 games to 1), and Islanders (4 games to 2) preceded the five-game Finals loss to Montreal club that featured nine future Hockey Hall of Famers---despite a Game One win by the Rangers at the Montreal Forum.
"Because I was so young at the time I didn't exactly understand what we had, and it had come together really at the end of the season," Duguay told me. "We had young players really stepping up and playing well, and had some great veteran leadership from Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais, and the guys like Dave Maloney and Ron Greschner who had been playing in the league for a bit, even though they were younger, were like a bridge to the rest of us. We all just came together at the right time. A lot of the reason why we were so tough to play against is because we banded together like a band of brothers."
The central figure in the Rangers run, according to Duguay, was head coach Fred Shero. He might have been nicknamed Freddie the Fog, but Duguay swears by his former coach, whom he refers to as "a genius".
"He was not a real vocal guy, the way he pushed his buttons wasn't from yelling and screaming, he'd be very gentle with players," Duguay said of Shero, who also won two Cups as head coach of the Flyers. "He knew what to say and to whom at a certain time, and he knew how to use his players with certain players---he just knew who fit well with whom. I really liked playing for (Shero), and I really liked his demeanor as a coach."
A coach, obviously, plays a major part in how a team succeeds and to what degree it succeeds. This off-season the Rangers will be hiring a new head coach, one they hope will take them to the Stanley Cup in the very near future.
And without naming who he'd like to see behind the Rangers bench next season, Duguay did let me know which was the most key quality in this new hire, in his opinion.
"When you are looking to win the Stanley Cup like Glen Sather has said, it's a very long hard season and it's not just about playing for each other, you have to want to play for your coach," explained Duguay. "To want to play for your coach you have to like your coach and respect him. A lot of that respect comes from how he treats his players and his knowledge of the game."
Duguay added that keys to the Rangers off-season in his opinion will be adding another goal scorer up front, and finding ways to improve the team's power play. But the biggest key, according to Duguay, will be finding the right new head coach.
"It all starts there," offered Duguay. "You have to find the right coach."
Jim Cerny-June 17, 2013