Jean Ratelle’s No. 19 will join those of other New York Rangers legends in the Madison Square Garden rafters on Sunday night.
While the title of greatest Ranger of all time is up for debate — Rod Gilbert, Brian Leetch, and Mark Messier lead the way — there is no doubt as to the best line in the team’s history: the Goal-a-Game (G-A-G) line. Ratelle, known as “Gentleman Jean,” centered that trio, combining with wingers Gilbert and Vic Hadfield for 637 goals in 453 games as a unit during their seven seasons together in the late 1960s and early ’70s. In their best season as a combo, 1971-72, the G-A-G line led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I was really fortunate to play with Rod and Vic,” Ratelle, who battled an ankle injury late that season, told amNewYork. “They were great players. We complemented each other on the ice. That was the key to our success.”
Ratelle still ranks second in franchise history in career goals (336) — behind only Gilbert — and third in career points (817) — behind Gilbert and Leetch. However, after failing to win the Cup, the G-A-G line was broken up. Hadfield was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1974; a year later, Ratelle was dealt to the Boston Bruins.
He capped his Hall of Fame career with six seasons in Boston and then worked in the team’s front office for 20 years. He still has homes in Boston and Cape Cod, though he winters in Florida these days.
“The trade was a shock, but I was never mad at the Rangers,” Ratelle said, adding that his status as a Bruins employee and back problems made visits to the Garden challenging over the years.
Ratelle’s back pain has since subsided, and his relationship with Rangers president (and former teammate) Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton (an assistant GM in Boston in 2007) paved the way for made Sunday’s festivities, which will arguably be one of the few highlights of what has been a dismal season for the Blueshirts.
“It’s a great honor,” said Ratelle, who has kept in touch with teammates through the Rangers’ Alumni Association. “Playing in New York was a fantastic experience. We had a good team, too.”