Ed Giacomin was one of the most successful and popular players ever to wear the uniform of the New York Rangers. He played over 500 of his 610 regular season games with the Blueshirts and helped the team reach the Stanley Cup final in 1972. He was placed on the NHL First All-Star Team twice and the Second Team three times. His fiery nature and wandering style on the ice endeared him to the demanding Madison Square Garden supporters.
He grew up in Gatchell, a small town on the outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario. A relatively late bloomer, Giacomin failed to attract the attention of junior clubs while fine-tuning his game in the Sudbury minor hockey system, but his love for hockey was such that he turned down an athletic scholarship in football and baseball from a school in California.
Tragedy struck Giacomin as a teenager when a kitchen stove blew up in his face and caused second- and third-degree burns on his legs and feet. He underwent skin grafts and his legs were bandaged for a year. Doctors told him to forget about hockey, but Giacomin was more determined than ever. He found a job and played goal in the industrial men's league that played at midnight. Giacomin had to pay to play and helped scrape the ice, but at least he could get back to hockey.
In 1958 he attended the Detroit Red Wings' training camp but, sensing an opportunity, he moved on to Washington of the Eastern Hockey League as a replacement for his brother. The team's fortunes went sour and it decided to give the youngster a chance on a regular basis. He sparked a six-game winning streak and caught the attention of Providence Reds owner Lou Pieri.
Giacomin's next break came when the New York Rangers acquired him from Providence in May 1965. He appeared in 36 games as a rookie, splitting the goaltending chores with Cesare Maniago. He endured a rocky beginning when his shaky play earned him a two-week reprimand in the minors. On the positive side, Giacomin's time in Baltimore gave him a chance to play with the legendary Doug Harvey. When he returned, starting goalie Cesare Maniago annoyed coach Emile Francis when he pulled himself out of a game because of an injury. Giacomin was sent in and immediately things fell into place as his play improved and he landed in the good books of the Rangers brass.
The Rangers missed the playoffs, but the following season Giacomin backstopped them to their first post-season appearance in five years. He also led the NHL with nine shutouts and was placed on the league's First All-Star Team. This started a run of nine straight years of playoff qualification. Giacomin also gained fame by taking Jacques Plante's wandering style an extra step further by trying to skate up ice and hit a teammate with a pass.
The solidification of the goaltending picture helped the Rangers become one of the most competitive teams in the league during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1970-71, Giacomin helped the club set a franchise record with 109 points. He and Gilles Villemure were the top netminding duo in the league that year and shared the Vezina Trophy, and it was the second time in his career that he earned a spot on the NHL First All-Star Team.
In 1971-72, the club matched its 109 points of the previous year but enjoyed a solid playoff run. In succession they eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens and the previous year's finalist, the Chicago Black Hawks to make the club's first appearance in the finals since 1949-50. They put up a strong fight but in the end couldn't quite match the powerful Boston Bruins.
Giacomin helped the Rangers reach the semifinals in both 1973 and 1974 but they never did break through for a championship season. Early in the 1975-76 season, New York put its all-time shutout leader and several other veterans on waivers. Detroit claimed Giacomin and was amazed to find that he wasn't recalled by Emile Francis. Giacomin described the toughest day in his pro career: "I remember having such an empty feeling. I had given 10 years of my life to that team and the worst part about it was there was nobody around. My teammates were on their way to Montreal. And here I am in this empty parking lot walking to my car, and I had visions of walking straight into the bay."
His first game with his new teammates came in an emotionally charged match at Madison Square Garden against his former club. In one of the most memorable scenes in the history of that storied arena, the New York faithful continually chanted "Eddie! Eddie!" They drowned out the national anthem, forcing the emotional netminder to raise his stick twice in a plea for silence. Detroit won the game, and when his former comrades scored on him, they apologized.
The Red Wings decided to go with Jimmy Rutherford and Ron Low in goal after training camp ended in 1977 and the veteran Giacomin retired with 54 shutouts and nearly 300 wins on his playing resume. Ironically, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987, when the ceremony was held for the first time in Detroit.
After leaving the game, Giacomin operated a popular sports bar in the Motor City. He experienced disappointment in 1978 when the Rangers coaching position he felt he'd been promised went instead to Fred Shero. Giacomin moved on to work as an assistant with the Islanders and the Red Wings. In 1986 he returned to the organization as goaltending coach and special assignment scout and was honored at a ceremonial faceoff at the home opener in 1985-86.