Friday, November 29, 2013

Gus Kyle: Hockey's Dudley Do-Right

For an NHL defenceman, being able to identify your check and guard against him in your own zone is a vital requirement. Also, it helps to be able to plant some punishment on an opponent.

After Gus Kyle played his fourth NHL contest for New York on October 22, 1949, at Maple Leaf Gardens, Hap Day acknowledged Kyle's success when it came to hunting someone down and stopping them cold in their tracks.

"He's an ex-Mountie, he always gets his man," Day stated of Kyle following a 2-2 tie.

The game story from a Toronto newspaper provides background for Day's statement. "Rangers' back division led by ex-RCMP Constable Walt Kyle, was more aggressive than last season and pushed the Leafs around."

Walter Lawrence "Gus" Kyle's resume did indeed include a stint wearing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform.

Born in Dysart, Saskatchewan on September 11, 1923, Kyle played junior hockey with the Notre Dame Hounds.

In 1941-42, Kyle ventured from western Canada to the bright lights of  Manhattan. He helped the New York Rovers win an EAHL Championship.

Upon returning home, Kyle joined the RCMP and was shipped out to New Brunswick. Out east, he worked in General Investigations and played senior hockey for the St. John Beavers.

After his discharge in October 1947, Kyle packed his bags and headed back home.

Over the next two years, Kyle married and opened a sporting goods store in Regina. Also, he continued to play senior hockey, donning the colours of the Regina Pats.

While on a scouting in the spring of 1949, New York Rangers general manager, Frank Boucher, took note of the 6'1" - 202 lbs Kyle.  This resulted in an invitation to attend New York's hockey school in the fall.

Kyle's impressive effort at the hockey school didn't go unnoticed. He received instructions to proceed to Lake Placid, home base for the Rangers training camp.

News of Kyle's progress at Lake Placid garnered press coverage back in Regina. "Gus is really hitting them down there," one eyewitness told The Leader-Post.

A headline asked is "Gus Kyle staying east?"

The adjoining story mentioned Kyle being teamed with Wally Stanowski in a 4-1 victory over the New Haven (AHL).

Even though 64 years have elapsed since Wally Stanowski first shared the ice with Gus Kyle, he remembers his former teammate. "He wasn't the best skater in the world, but he could bodycheck, Stanowski said while waiting for lunch to be served at an NHL Oldtimers Lunch this month. "He was a pretty good defenceman.

The answer to the question concerning Kyle's ability to stick with the Rangers came when he began the 1949-50 campaign on New York's blue line.

On October 25, 1949, at Chicago Stadium, Kyle recorded his first NHL point. "Chicago was forcing the play when Gus Kyle stole the puck in centre ice and broke behind the Hawk defence. His rebound pass set up Alex Kaleta...," noted a United Press story of New York's first tally in a 2-1 victory.

"Rangers open Garden hockey campaign with victory over Bruins," announced a headline in the October 27, 1949, edition of The New York Times. Witnessed by 14,262 Madison Square Garden patrons, Kyle scored his first NHL goal in New York's home opener.

"Laprade interrupted a rush to steal the puck, guide it deep into Bruin ice, and hand it to Kyle, who counted in 4:03," is how The New York Times described Kyle's goal.

Quotes by Kyle, gleamed from a Hockey News article,  shed insight on his life as an NHL rookie.

On the NHL game..."You have to think faster and act faster up here. And you can't afford to make mistakes."

Stepping onto the ice for his initial NHL appearance at MSG..."You know, I was really nervous. Maybe when I make the rounds once or twice and get to know how the other teams play I won't be so nervous but I am now."

On once again playing in New York after his time with the Rovers..."It may be the biggest city in the world, but it's as friendly as the smallest town."

Gus Kyle went on to skate in 203 NHL contests with New York and Boston between 1949-50 and 1951-52. He hung up his blades after four seasons with the WHL Calgary Stampeders.