NEW YORK -- Three decades after Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, they took their rightful place in the rafters of Madison Square Garden -- the new one, not the arena where they starred so many years ago.
The longtime former teammates were honored together Sunday night in a pregame ceremony when Howell's No. 3 and Bathgate's No. 9 were retired by the New York Rangers.
While Howell spent a little more than one season with the Rangers after the team moved into the current Garden on 33rd Street in the heart of Manhattan, he and Bathgate made their marks in the old building -- sharing 704 games as teammates.
"Is there any better place to play hockey in the whole damn world than New York?" Bathgate told a cheering crowd, full of many fans who likely never saw him play. "This night is beyond our furthest dreams, believe me."
Howell, a defenseman, and Bathgate, a right winger, both joined the Rangers in the 1952-53 season. By the time Howell left the team, he owned the record for games played with the Broadway Blueshirts -- a record that still stands at 1,160.
Bathgate's New York tenure ended 45 years to the day of the long-awaited tribute when he was part of a seven-player trade on Feb. 22, 1964, that sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs -- the Rangers' Original Six opponent Sunday night.
"Who am I supposed to root for tonight?" Bathgate said, laughing. "I'm just kidding. We need the win."
They were joined at center ice by several former teammates, along with Hall of Fame opponents Red Kelly, Dick Duff, Frank Mahovlich and Stan Mikita.
The 76-year-old Bathgate will share his No. 9 in the rafters with more recent fan favorite Adam Graves, a member of the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team who had his version of No. 9 retired by the club earlier this month.
Graves, who last year went to Bathgate's driving range in Canada to inform him that he and Howell would be honored, took pleasure in welcoming the 1959 Hart Trophy winner to this exclusive fraternity on Sunday night.
"It is my honor to introduce the greatest player to ever wear Number 9 for the New York Rangers, " Graves said in his trademark humble tone.
This was a night many never thought would take place. Bathgate has been gone from the Rangers 45 years, and Howell left the team in a June 1969 trade. They were inducted into the Hall of Fame one year apart, Bathgate in 1978 and Howell in 1979.
Only goalie Ed Giacomin (No. 1) and forward Rod Gilbert (No. 7) -- both former teammates of Howell and Bathgate from the era in which the Rangers never won the Stanley Cup -- had been so honored by the club.