Jean Ratelle’s No. 19 will be raised to the rafters at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 25, 2018. Why it took so long is an interesting tale.
Center Jean Ratelle first stepped on the ice for the New York Rangers in the 1960-61 season. He’d spend the next 16 seasons wearing the red, white and blue, forming the legendary GAG Line (goal-a-game line) along with Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield.
In 862 games with the club, Ratelle scored 336 goals and dished out 481 assists for 817 points. He was a two-time Lady Byng winner, won the Masterson Trophy in 1970-71, the Pearson trophy in 1971-72 and appeared in one All-Star game. Then the trade that changed everything was made.
On Nov. 7, 1975, Ratelle and defenseman Brad Park were traded to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Carol Vadnais and Phil Esposito. Ratelle went on to spend the next 26 years in Boston—six as a player, four as an assistant coach and 16 as a scout.
So you can understand why he felt like his loyalty lied in Boston, not New York. In fact, that’s what kept his jersey from being retired by the Rangers—until now.
“That’s a long time,” Ratelle told Brett Crygalis of the New York Post at the team’s recent golf outing at the Westchester Country Club. “I felt a little bit of loyalty to the Bruins.” It was his wife who made him realize that his loyalty remained with the team he started his career with.
“You don’t owe the Bruins any loyalty now,” she told him. “You haven’t been to a Bruins game in 12-to-15 years.”. He knew she was right. At that point, Ratelle would take any phone calls from former teammate and current Ranger President Glenn Sather to talk about retiring his number.
During this offseason, Ratelle received that call and, without hesitation, replied: “It would be a great honor.” Just like that, Ratelle was back where he always belonged.
Having your number retired is always a special occasion for any player. Having it done at Madison Square Garden will be even more special as Ratelle returns back to stand in front of all his great fans.
Tradition is an important part of New York Rangers history. They are an original-six team with 91 years of hockey behind them. Ratelle was a big part of that history. He deserves this night, a chance to celebrate with his family, friends, former teammates and fans.
Inducted into the NHL Hall Of Fame in 1985, Ratelle serves as an example to the current Rangers players what hard work and dedication can lead to. This honor is well-deserved and long, long, overdue.