On Feb. 25, former New York Ranger great Jean Ratelle will have his number 19 raised to the rafters at Madison Square Garden.
Jean Ratelle played parts of 16 season on Broadway for the New York Rangers. When his time in New York ended with the 1975-76 season, Ratelle left his mark on the franchise, ranking second in goals, assists, and points in addition to a Bill Masterton Trophy, Lady Byng Trophy, a Ted Lindsay Award and four All-Star games. In 1985, the center was inducted into the National Hockey League Hall of Fame.
Ratelle will become just the ninth player in franchise history to be immortalized with his number being retired, joining former teammates Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin, Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate, as well as recent Blueshirts Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Adam Graves.
Jean Ratelle began is NHL with the Rangers in the 1960-61 season appearing in three games and scoring two goals. He went on to score 336 goals in his Ranger career. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Ratelle along with Rangers captain Vic Hadfield on the left wing and Mr. Ranger himself, Rod Gilbert on the right side formed one of the most famous lines in NHL history. The G-A-G line was formed and got its name for its goal a game average the linemates had while they played together. They went on to play together for nine seasons, which nowadays is unheard of.
Their best season together was the 1971-72 season where Ratelle recorded 46 goals, Vic Hadfield had 44 goals, and Rod Gilbert scored 43 goals. Hadfield was the only one of the three to hit the 50 goal plateau that season. The incredible thing about that season was that Ratelle also registered 63 assists for 109 points in 63 games played as he led the Rangers in scoring that year.
In an interview with Steve Zipay of Newsday in September 2017, Ratelle discussed that season, “We could have done it,” iconic Rangers center Jean Ratelle said with a tinge of quiet regret. “Sixteen games to go, I had 46, Vic (Hadfield) had 44, Rod (Gilbert) had 43, something like that. Only Vic scored 50.”
Unfortunately for Ratelle and the Rangers, he broke his ankle when he was hit with a shot from fellow Ranger teammate Dale Rolfe. In an instant, the G-A-G line was broken up as the Rangers went on to lose to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals in six games.
“Everything seemed to be going good for us,” said Ratelle, now 76. “The puck went in a little more, plays worked, and we had a great team. Vic was a great shooter, a power forward type, Rod and I were playmakers, we skated well, and we could see each other very well on the ice because we played together so long.”
When the season ended, Vic Hadfield wound up with 106 points and Gilbert, who was also injured towards the end of the season, had 97 points. The three players wound up third, fourth and fifth in scoring behind Boston Bruins Phil Esposito, 133 points and Bobby Orr, 117 points.
In November 1975, Ratelle (who led the team in points for four seasons), Brad Park and Joe Zanussi were sent to the Bruins for Esposito and Carol Vadnais. At the time the Rangers General Manager was Emile Francis, and Ratelle said that Francis told his wife that he wanted to send him to a place that wanted him. Well, the Boston Bruins wanted him.
Ratelle went on to play for six more seasons with the Bruins as he retired following the 1980-81 season. He then went on to stay with the organization for a total of 26 years, as a player, assistant coach and a scout. Through this time he had very little contact with his old team. As he worked with the Bruins, he met a man by the name of Jeff Gorton. The two became friends before Gorton leaving the Bruins and joining the Rangers in 2007.
Jeff Gorton, now the team general manager, is one of the reason’s the team and Ratelle were able to get back together.
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The reason for the so-called lack of communication between Ratelle and the Rangers was evident due to one factor. Loyalty. Jean Ratelle felt extremely loyal to the Boston organization understandably since he had such a long tenure there. Ratelle explained to Brett Cyrgalis in a story to the New York Post earlier this year, “that’s a long time, “I felt a little bit of loyalty to the Bruins.” His wife brought up a key factor that helped sway Ratelle to let this idea feeling of loyalty step aside telling him, “You don’t owe the Bruins any loyalty now,” you haven’t been to a Bruins game in 12-to-15 years.”
With that no longer a factor in Ratelle’s mind, the Rangers and he finally got together. The results of those conversations now lead the way for fans young and old to this Sunday, Feb. 28 where the New York Rangers family will once again look back at the great career of number 19.
Ratelle recently spoke with Matt Calamia of NYRangers.com regarding Sunday’s ceremony. “I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great evening for me and my family,” said Ratelle. “I’m looking forward to having a good time, and hopefully I won’t be too nervous.
The fans have always had a unique part in Ratelle’s heart, and he is looking forward to seeing them once again. “They were always really good fans,” Ratelle said. “They loved the game of hockey and knew the game of hockey. It was great to play in front of them while I was there.”
Of all the awards and accolades he has received, he says this is the ultimate, “I’ve received many awards in my career, and this is probably the ultimate,” he said. “To have your sweater retired with the New York Rangers, it’s the icing on the cake.”