Nobody does these ceremonies any better than The Garden. That’s been known for quite some time. When it comes to honoring their own players, they are top notch.
So on a memorable night in which they finally paid tribute to Jean Ratelle by raising his number 19 to the rafters following a stirring ceremony, the classy center surprised the third part of the Rangers G-A-G (goal a game) Line by announcing with Rod Gilbert that next year, Vic Hadfield will have the same honor bestowed on him. The original number 11 before Mark Messier was so taken back by it that he had to sit down.
That’s how much it meant to the beef of the greatest line in franchise history. It was in ‘71-72 that Hadfield achieved elite status by becoming the first ever Ranger to score 50 goals in a season. He did it playing with cohesive linemates Gilbert and Ratelle, whose 109 point season (46-63-109) came in only 63 games for a then single season Rangers record. It stood for 34 years until Jaromir Jagr shattered it in ‘05-06 with 123 points.
During that special season, the golden trio were way over a point-per-game and of course averaged over a goal a game like their name (GAG Line). Hadfield reached heights he never did again hitting the 50-goal mark with 106 points and 142 penalty minutes in 78 games under The Cat, coach and GM Emile Francis. He was good enough to be on hand for the Ratelle ceremony coming out driven in a golf cart as a surprise parting gift to Ratelle, who enjoys hitting the green. It was the signature moment with Francis giving a nice speech after Ratelle danced around with the golf clubs.
With Rangers legends on hand including former teammates Ed Giacomin, Brad Park (who also deserves recognition) Gilles Villemure, Ted Irvine, Rod Seiling, ‘71 playoff hero Pete Stemkowski, Bob Plager, Steve Vickers, Bob Nevin and current team President Glen Sather, they did a great job making him feel home.
Of course, you had recent Stanley Cup heroes Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and the man who surpassed Hadfield’s 50 goals in ‘93-94 with 52, Adam Graves on hand to take part in the ceremony with legendary MSG Hall of Fame broadcaster Sam Rosen.
It truly was wonderful to see. I was under the weather. So I didn’t go. But this was all about my father, who grew up idolizing those classic Rangers teams. It’s funny too about Gilbert making the great announcement after he and Ratelle were killing Hadfield with their jokes which had everyone going. Before Dad and my brother left, I talked to him about Hadfield and he stood firm on Hadfield deserving to have his place with the other numbers. It’s fitting that he will finally get his due next season.
Long before the franchise started honoring past legends following the ‘94 Four, I always felt that they should’ve recognized their past. Sure. Winning that Cup was huge because it erased a long 54-year drought and a lot of bad memories for longtime fans like my Dad and the older generation. But the Rangers have been around much longer along with the Original Six.
I think the happiest Dad ever was when Andy Bathgate went up with Harry Howell. Bathgate was his all-time favorite Ranger before they traded him away to the Maple Leafs where he helped them win a Cup.
There’s still work to be done. Park belongs up there and so does Original Ranger Bill Cook. Cook was the big scorer from the early Cup teams in ‘28 and ‘33. Playing with brother Bun and Frank Boucher on the Bread Line, he had a brilliant career in New York winning multiple scoring titles and leading the NHL in goals. He totaled 228 goals and 138 assists for 366 points in 475 career games.
Don’t forget the Rangers first season was ‘26-27. Cook was already 28 and played a decade in the league before retiring. He spent the first part of his career in the WCHL and WHL mostly with Saskatoon. Boucher was around for the franchise’s first three Cups including 1940 when he took over coaching for Lester Patrick.
I hope one day the franchise recognizes the Bread Line for their contributions. Both Cook brothers and Boucher are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.