Rodrigue Gabriel "Rod" Gilbert - Born July 1, 1941 in Montreal, Quebec - Died August 19, 2021 in Manhattan, New York was a Canadian ice Hockey right winger and executive.
Gilbert played his minor Hockey in Montreal at a independent school, and as a teenager, met a man named Yvon Prud'homme, who invited him to play senior Hockey with men in their late-twenties, and he was coach of the team. "We played for the Allan Cup. I was just fourteen. This man, Yvon Prud'homme, had then been hired by the New York Rangers to start a competitive Junior B league in Montreal. When he signed me, I told him, 'I have a friend I've been playing with since I was a kid and he's better than me. Sign him up and we'll play together.' He signed Jean Ratelle without ever seeing him play."
Gilbert then played his junior Hockey for the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters of the Ontario Hockey Association / OHA from 1957 to 1960, and almost won the OHA scoring title (39 goals - 91 points) for the 1959-60 season, losing it to Chico Maki on the last day of the 1959-60 schedule. In the spring of 1960, Gilbert joined the Trois-Rivières Lions for their playoff run in the Eastern Professional Hockey League / EPHL. In the final 3 games of the regular EPHL season, Gilbert scored 4 goals, 6 assists, then another 2 goals, 2 assists in 5 EPHL playoff games.
Gilbert returned to Guelph for his final season of junior Hockey, but the team had run into financial trouble in 1960, and new ownership renamed the team the Guelph Royals, after the city's nickname. On November 27, 1960, Gilbert made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers, and made the most of a one-game call-up by assisting on Dean Prentice's third-period goal that gave New York a 3-3 tie with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Gilbert finished his junior career by leading the Royals and the OHA with 54 goals and 103 points, earning him the 1961 OHA scoring title.
Gilbert had just received word that he was an emergency call-up to the New York Rangers when disaster struck. In the last junior game of the year, he skated over some debris thrown on the ice that caused him to fall awkwardly into the boards. The impact resulted in a broken fifth vertebra in his back. To repair the damage, doctors removed bone from his left leg and used it to bind the fourth, fifth and sixth vertebrae together.
After recovering from his injury, Gilbert started his professional career with the Kitchener-Waterloo Beavers of the Eastern Professional Hockey League / EPHL, scoring 12 goals, 11 assists in 21 games. Gilbert was then recalled up to The NHL Rangers in the spring of 1962, as Ken Schinkel had broken his toe and was unable to continue in the Rangers semifinal playoff series with the Maple Leafs. Gilbert played on a line with Dave Balon and Johnny Wilson, scoring 2 goals against Johnny Bower, both in his first game, and would collect another 3 assists in 4 playoff games with the Rangers. His 5 points impressed the Rangers management, and Gilbert would become a full-time Ranger the next season. He would spend the next 16 years in New York.
Gilbert scored 31 points (11 goals) as a rookie, then registered his first of 12, 20-goal seasons in his sophomore year. Gilbert was a deceptively fast skater with an ability to elude many of the league's wiliest checkers. He was blessed with a hard shot that often dipped and he didn't shy away from battling hard in the corners or in front of the opposition net.
Meanwhile, the surgery Gilbert underwent wasn't totally successful. The bone graft loosened over time and eventually disintegrated as a result of the bodily contact so common in Hockey. Prior to his third season, it was discovered that the surgically repaired vertebrae were damaged and required further attention.
He tried to play the 1965-66 schedule by wearing a special custom-fitted brace, but the extra equipment affected his breathing and, to some extent, his stamina. In January 1966 he was forced to abandon the season and undergo an operation to save his career. his surgery was performed by Dr. Kazuo Yanagisawa. Gilbert came through the surgery and rehabilitation well and scored 28 goals the next year when he led the Rangers into the playoffs for the first time in five years.
At the start of the 1970-71 season, Gilbert was teamed with Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield to form what would become the GAG (goal a game) line, and helped the Rangers set a franchise record of 107 points.
The following season Gilbert enjoyed a career year in 1971-72, and set personal bests of 43 goals and 97 points and helped the team reach the Stanley Cup finals. The line made history by becoming the first on which all three members reached the 40-goal mark. Additionally, all three finished in the top five of the NHL's scoring race. Gilbert was also named to the NHL First All-Star Team.
During the Fall of 1972, Gilbert was selected to represent Canada in the Summit Series against the Soviet Union National Hockey Team. His desire to play for Canada was so great that he ignored the many overtures that were sent his way by teams in the newly founded World Hockey Association / WHA. Meanwhile, Gilbert's only goal in the Summit Series was in the third period of game 7 in Moscow that goal gave Team Canada an early shift in momentum, which they needed to go on to win the game and live to fight another day. Gilbert was the only Canadian player to get into a fight as well.
That other day of course was game 8, and literally featured a fight between Gilbert and Evgeni Mishakov who allegedly kicked Gilbert in the back of the leg.
Gilbert also helped set up an important goal in that game. He set up Bill White's only goal of the series, which at the time tied the game at 3. Canada would go on to win the game and the series. Gilbert has later quoted it was his "Greatest Hockey Moment" playing in the Summit Series.
Between 1972 and 1977, Gilbert scored at least 75 points five straight years, but the Rangers never made it past the semifinals. On March 24, 1974, his goal against Dave Dryden of the Buffalo Sabres made him the first 300-goal scorer in the history of the New York Rangers.
In 1976 Gilbert was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as a tribute to his dedication on and off the ice, and overcame a serious back injury early during his career. He scored 86 points that season.
On December 12, 1976, he celebrated his 1,000th game by setting up three New York goals in a 5-2 home-ice win over the Stanley Cup champion Canadiens. Gilbert was also on hand when professionals were allowed to take part in the 1977 World Championship. He and linemates Walt McKechnie and Guy Charron helped Canada finish fourth in the historic competition.
Gilbert went on to compete for the Rangers until early in the 1977-78 season. Over his 18-year career, Gilbert recorded 406 goals, 615 assists and 1,021 points in 1,065 regular season games. In 79 playoff games, he scored 34 goals and 67 points.
Gilbert set or equaled 20 team scoring records and when he retired in 1977, he trailed only one other right winger (Gordie Howe) in total points. Gilbert holds the New York Rangers team record for career goals (406), career points (1021), games played by a forward (1065) and shares the Rangers team record for assists in one game (5 - three times)
Gilbert played in NHL All-Star Games of 1964, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1977.
Gilbert is one of ten athletes who were featured in American artist Andy Warhol's Athlete Series of paintings.
Gilbert's number 7 was retired by the New York Rangers on October 14, 1979, the first number to be retired by the Rangers.
Rod Gilbert was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.
In 1991, Rod Gilbert, along with Mike Ilitch were awarded The Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to Hockey in the United States.
In 2010, Rod Gilbert was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in recognition of his humanitarian efforts
Gilbert later worked for the New York Rangers organization, and had a golf tournament which helps out for the diabetes research institute.