Most New York Ranger fans probably have never heard of Murray Murdoch.
And why would they?
Although Murdoch was a member of the Blueshirts’ original 1926 roster, played in 508 straight games and won two Stanley Cups, his name and those of his teammates aren’t among the banners hanging in Madison Square Garden’s rafters.
Murdoch and the other original Rangers — tough characters with nicknames like Taffy, Raffles, and Ching — and their coach, Lester Patrick, patriarch of “hockey’s royal family,” deserve better.
An effort to correct this oversight lies at the heart of The Last Original Ranger of New York, a new novel by Bryan Reilly of Hartsdale.
Reilly’s first novel comes after a career in marketing and licensing sports merchandise that took him to many games at “the world’s most famous arena.”
He painstakingly reconstructs the earliest days of those original Rangers and connects them with the cup-winning 1994 team captained by Mark Messier, who, in a nice twist, is related to Murdoch through marriage.
Reilly’s given his tale a mystical, “Field of Dreams” touch by fictionalizing meetings between the aging Murdoch and 33-year-old Messier on a Westchester pond during the grueling 1994 season.
That pond is modeled on one where Reilly and his son skated, located only a few hundred yards from the Rangers’ Tarrytown practice facility.
Who were these guys?
Reilly was at the Garden several years ago when the Jumbotron’s pregame video displayed some black-and-white and sepia images of players he’d never seen before.
“I’m as big a Ranger fan as anybody in this building, I know a lot about sports photography and I don’t know who these guys are,” he said. “So that night I went home and Googled the original team.”
He realized “there’s a whole part of Rangers’ history that really hasn’t been explored, and with the 100th anniversary coming up, I was like, what a perfect time to reintroduce these great guys to the Ranger fan base.”
As the team approaches its centennial in 2026, Reilly researched the original icebreakers in this legendary franchise by pouring over microfilm from old newspapers and books about those early days.
While he invented dialog and action, “I took great pains to get the facts right” by piecing together game accounts and capturing the spirit of the players, Reilly writes in his acknowledgements.
He recreates the bloody fights that were common, long before helmets were introduced, when the refs took their time breaking them up. The only barrier between the players and rowdy fans in the seats was chicken wire strung up above the boards.
The story is set during Prohibition, and Reilly recounts the team’s post-game visits to Manhattan’s speakeasies where they rub shoulders with characters like Damon Runyon.
Murdoch stood out as the perfect narrator for Reilly’s novel, given his status as the team’s iron man for never missing a game, and decades later was on the ice the night Messier was announced as the team’s captain.
“He’s the only guy who saw all four times the Rangers’ won the Stanley Cup,” Reilly said of Murdoch, who died in 2001.
He added: “If we could get to 2026 and the Rangers are having their 100th anniversary ceremony, if we could see these guys recognized by having a banner raised at the Garden, that would be a fantasy come true for me.”
The Last Original Ranger of New York, which is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, won’t be Reilly’s last foray into historical fiction. The former Irvington and Dobbs Ferry author’s second novel will trace the homeward journey of a Civil War soldier.