William Osser Cook was considered by many to be the greatest right winger ever to play the game. He was a remarkably gifted and rugged competitor who served as the catalyst on the New York Rangers' famous Bread Line with his brother Bun and Frank Boucher. Cook's input was crucial to the Rangers' first two Stanley Cup triumphs in 1928 and 1933.
Born in Brantford, Ontario, Cook grew up farther east, in the Kingston area. He learned to skate on the nearby Rideau Canal and made his junior hockey debut with the Kingston Frontenacs in 1916. His play impressed the local fans, who compared him with the legendary Scotty Davidson.
Following the Great War, Cook returned to Kingston and suited up with the Frontenacs' intermediate outfit. His inspired play helped the team reach the OHA finals that year. The next season he led the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the championship of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association.
Cook ventured away from the east to make his professional debut in 1921-22 with the Saskatoon Sheiks of the Western Canada Hockey League. During his five years in Saskatoon, the team's name changed to the Crescents and he attained monumental status by winning the league's scoring championship twice. This included a personal high of 31 goals in 30 games during the last year of the Western Hockey League in 1925-26.
In preparing for their initial NHL season in 1926, the New York Rangers signed Cook from the defunct WHL. In addition to being the first skater signed officially by the club, he became the team's first captain and the foundation on which the club was built. Fittingly, he scored the first goal in franchise history on November 16, 1926, when the Broadway Blueshirts shut down the Montreal Maroons 1-0 to begin their NHL life in style.
In these early days of the franchise, Cook was joined by his younger brother Bun and center Frank Boucher to form one of hockey's most successful forward combinations. This trio dominated opposing defenses for several years with their precision passing and relentless effort. The elder Cook led all scorers in 1926-27 with 37 points and was runner-up in the Hart Trophy voting.
The Bread Line led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup triumph in 1928 by accounting for every one of the team's goals in a thrilling five-game final series with the Montreal Maroons. New York reached the finals again the following season, but they came up short against the Boston Bruins, who won their inaugural championship in a two-game sweep in the best-of-three finals.
Cook and his linemates played well despite their loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1932 Stanley Cup finals. They were in top form the next year, with Cook leading the way with his second scoring title. Once again he finished runner-up in the Hart Trophy selection, this time to Bruins star rearguard Eddie Shore. And the Rangers exacted their revenge on the Maple Leafs by capturing their second Stanley Cup by 3-1 in the best-of-five finals. To cap an extraordinary year, Cook scored the dramatic first-ever NHL Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal.
"The Original Ranger" continued to register impressive numbers for New York until his retirement in 1936-37. On top of his two scoring championships, Cook was selected as the right wing on the NHL First All-Star Team three times and the Second Team once. His 229 regular-season goals accounted for nearly one-fifth of the Rangers' total during the club's first decade of play.
A successful tenure as coach awaited Cook after he retired as a player. He guided the AHL's Cleveland Barons to the 1939 and 1941 Calder Cup championships during his six years at the helm that began in 1937-38. In 1950 he coached the Minneapolis Millers to the Paul W. Loudon Trophy in the United States Hockey League. He also coached the Denver Falcons of the same league the following season before returning to Saskatoon.
He was coaching the Saskatoon Quakers of the Pacific Coast Hockey League in 1951-52 when the New York Rangers turned to him to help revitalize their sagging fortunes. Cook couldn't refuse, since the appeal came from the general manager of the Blueshirts, his old linemate Frank Boucher. Cook spent just under two seasons coaching his old club before permanently retiring from the game at the conclusion of the 1952-53 season.
His immense contribution to the New York franchise didn't go unnoticed. On January 10, 1986, just three months before he passed away, the New York Rangers presented him with their alumni association award before a cheering crowd at Madison Square Garden. Cook is a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1952.