Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Bill Cook
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One on One with Bill Cook

18 FEBRUARY 2011
Bill Cook played four seasons with Saskatoon of the WCHL
Bill Cook played four seasons with Saskatoon of the WCHL.
(Hockey Hall of Fame)
The passage of time has dissolved a generation that lit up with the hockey exploits that followed the First World War. While today we can reflect on great right wingers like Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe, Brett Hull, Jaromir Jagr, Guy Lafleur and Maurice Richard, among those that carved the path for these stars is Bill Cook.

William Osser Xavier Cook was born in Brantford, Ontario on October 9, 1895. Bill was the eldest of three brothers who would go on to play in the National Hockey League — 'Bun' was born in 1903 and 'Bud' in 1907.

The Cook family had moved to Kingston by the time the boys began playing hockey. By 1913, Bill had joined the Kingston Frontenacs, playing for the junior squad before enlisting in military service for Canada during World War I.

After serving his country between 1916 and 1919, Cook returned to Kingston, but by 1920, had been recruited to join the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey Association's Senior circuit. During his two seasons with The Soo, Cook helped take the Greyhounds to the Allan Cup final.

Two years in, and having been rewarded with property in Saskatchewan for having served in the Great War, Bill Cook moved west and, for four seasons, starred with the Saskatoon Sheiks of the Western Canadian Hockey League. In two of those seasons (1923-24 and 1925-26), Cook led the league in both goals and points. In 1923-24 he accomplished the feat with 26 goals and 40 points and in 1925-26 with 31 goals and 44 points. In 1923-24 and the two subsequent seasons, Bill was named to the league's All-Star Team.

Simultaneous with the folding of the Western Hockey League (having been rebranded from the Western Canadian Hockey League), the New York Rangers debuted in the National Hockey League for the 1926-27 season. Requiring players, the Rangers' general manager at the time, Conn Smythe, raided the dying league and came up with both Cook brothers from Saskatoon as well as Frank Boucher from Vancouver. Although Smythe was dismissed before the season began, he had unwittingly created one of the most prolific lines of that era.

Bill Cook was part of the New York Rangers famous Bread Line with his brother Bun and Frank Boucher
Bill Cook was part of the New York Rangers famous Bread Line with his brother Bun and Frank Boucher. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
The New York Rangers made their NHL debut on November 16, 1926, at home in Madison Square Garden. A capacity crowd of 13,000 watched captain Bill Cook score the first goal in franchise history at 18:37 of the second period of the opening night contest against the Montreal Maroons. In fact, it was the only goal scored.

The Rangers ended up winning the American Division of the NHL by a healthy 11 points over the second-place Boston Bruins. Bill Cook led the league in goals scored (33) and was the scoring champion with 37 points, edging Dick Irvin of the Chicago Black Hawks by a single point. Unfortunately, the Rangers' Cinderella season came to a premature end when they were defeated by the Bruins in the semi-final.

Bill Cook and King Clancy taking part in a pre-game ceremony with NHL President Frank Calder
Bill Cook (right) and King Clancy (left) taking part in a pre-game ceremony with NHL President Frank Calder (second from left) and an unknown. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Rangers were not to be denied in their sophomore season. Although Bill Cook slid back substantially in production (24 points, still good for seventh in league scoring), the Bread Line, comprised of the two Cooks and Frank Boucher, still led the team in point production. The Rangers finished second in the American Division, then edged Pittsburgh and Boston in the first two rounds of the playoffs, earning the right to face the Montreal Maroons in the Stanley Cup final.

The Rangers were blanked 2-0 by the Maroons in the opening game, Early in the second period of Game Two, netminder Lorne Chabot was injured and, with no one else available, coach and manager Lester Patrick, at one time, an outstanding forward, donned the goalie equipment and took his Rangers to a 2-1 overtime win. In Game Three, the Rangers borrowed Joe Miller from the New York Americans, and he tended goal for the remainder of the series. New York lost Game Three 2-0, took Game Four 1-0 and on April 14, edged the Maroons 2-1 to win the Stanley Cup, the first in franchise history.

Bill Cook's production was limited to 23 points in 1928-29, still enabling the forward to finish seventh in NHL scoring, but the Rangers returned to the Stanley Cup Final again, only to lose to the Bruins.

As a coach Cook led the AHL's Cleveland Barons to the 1939 and 1941 Calder Cup Championship
As a coach Cook led the AHL's Cleveland Barons to the 1939 and 1941 Calder Cup Championship. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
Cook bounced back in 1929-30, scoring 29 times and assisting on 30 others for 59 points, tops on his team and fourth-best in the league. The next season (1930-31), he scored 30 goals and 42 points, best on his team and the fourth-best in the NHL, earning selection to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In 1932, Cook again was chosen for the NHL's First All-Star Team, based on finishing fourth in scoring with a league-best 33 goals with 14 assists for 47 points. The Rangers finished first in the American Division, but after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the semi-final, lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Stanley Cup championship.

In retrospect, Cook enjoyed his final hurrah during the 1932-33 season. He led the NHL in goals (28) and points (50) and for a third straight season, was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team. Although the Rangers finished third in their division, they eliminated the Canadiens in the quarter-final, dumped Detroit in the semi-final and, once again, earned a spot in the Stanley Cup final.

The Rangers' opponents were the Maple Leafs, recreating the previous spring's championship series. The Rangers went up two games to none before Toronto rallied for a 3-2 win. But the best-of-five series concluded with New York's victory in Game Four, a tight 1-0 win with Bill Cook scoring the winning goal. The hero and his team enjoyed the fruits of their second Stanley Cup championship!

During the 1933-34 season, Bill Cook earned his 300th NHL point, all earned as a member of the Rangers. He finished the season with match 13 goals and 13 assists, and Cook was selected for the league's Second All-Star Team.

Bill Cook spent just under two seasons coaching the New York Rangers before retiring from the game following the 1952-53 season
Bill Cook spent just under two seasons coaching the New York Rangers before retiring from the game following the 1952-53 season. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Cook reached the 20-goal plateau for the final time in 1934-35, finishing with 21 goals and 36 points. His production fell to 17 points in 1935-36, a season in which the Rangers tumbled to last place in the American Division. During the 1936-37 season, Cook scored but 5 points, retiring after just 21 games that season. Ironically, the Rangers rebounded from having missed the playoffs the previous season to reach the Stanley Cup final that season, although they ended up losing to the Detroit Red Wings.

The inaugural roster had come to a conclusion. Bun Cook was traded to Boston in 1936-37 and Frank Boucher retired midway through the 1937-38 season. The other member of the famous Bread Line, Bill Cook, retired having played his entire career as captain of the New York Rangers. He scored 228 goals and 138 assists for 366 points in 474 regular season games. In post-season play, Bill scored 13 goals, 11 assists and totalled 24 points in 46 games.

Linemate Frank Boucher called Bill Cook "the best right winger hockey ever knew, despite the fact that others disagree and give their votes to Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe. I say Cook topped them both." Boucher later described Cook's style. "Bill didn't have a bullet shot, but he had a very hard wrist shot from close in and could score equally well backhand or forehand."

While his production is most notable to hockey historians, Cook matched his skills with toughness. Joe Primeau, an opponent playing with the Maple Leafs, stated, "Nobody fooled around with Bill because he was tough. Real tough. Bill was the best (right winger) we ever played against."

Arguably the finest right winger of his era, Bill Cook was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1952. Long retired, the New York Rangers invited Bill back to the closing of the old Madison Square Garden in 1968. In Brian McFarlane's book, 'The Rangers,' Cook said, "They brought me back because I scored the first goal in the old Madison Square Garden. Then they gave me a puck and sent me out on the ice to put one in the net to christen the new Garden. Now that was quite an honour."

Bill Cook passed away in Kingston, Ontario on April 6, 1986. One of the all-time great Rangers, both Bill and his brother Bun have homes in the Hockey Hall of Fame, as does their Bread Line teammate Frank Boucher. The trio kept the hopes of fans positive during the dark and dirty Depression.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.