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22.09.2017

The moment Jean Ratelle gave his loyalty back to Rangers.

Ironically enough, the thing that kept Jean Ratelle from earning his rightful place with his No. 19 sweater up in the rafters of the Garden for such a long time was loyalty. But it was a loyalty to the Bruins, the organization that employed Ratelle for 26 years, starting with that infamous trade from the...
Time: 19:14     Date: 13.09.2017
Last US Sport News: The moment Jean Ratelle gave his loyalty back to Rangers. NY Post 24 - US News

But it was a loyalty to the Bruins, the organization that employed Ratelle for 26 years, starting with that infamous trade from the Rangers in November 1975. Many thought that deal, the one that sent Ratelle and Brad Park to Boston and brought back Phil Esposito, was a reason for bitterness. It broke up the famed GAG (goal-a-game) line, with Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield, and was the first of six years Ratelle spent in Boston as a player before adding four as an assistant coach and 16 as a scout.

“That’s a long time,” Ratelle said Wednesday at the Rangers golf outing at Westchester Country Club. “I felt a little bit of loyalty to the Bruins.”

Finally, this past winter, that loyalty began to fade. Ratelle remembered watching a Rangers game at home, and his wife telling him, “You don’t owe the Bruins any loyalty now. You haven’t been to a Bruins game in 12-15 years.” That meant if former teammate and current Rangers President Glen Sather came calling to offer a ceremony retiring his number, he would accept.

“That’s when he called me,” Ratelle said, “and I guess it was just the right time.”

But now Ratelle’s number will go up on Sunday, Feb. 25, when the Rangers play host to the Red Wings. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985, and this is a long time coming.

“It’s fantastic for us, my family, everyone is very excited to get together for that night,” Ratelle said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

That era of Rangers hockey was not entirely dissimilar to the current one, where sustained excellence just hasn’t resulted in a Stanley Cup. The best chance for Ratelle and his mates to get the franchise’s first Cup since 1940 came in 1972, when things were going so well that Ratelle hoped he, Gilbert and Hadfield could all score 50 goals. With 16 games left in the season, Ratelle remembered him having 46, Hadfield having 44 and Gilbert having 43.

But on March 1, Ratelle was hit by a Dale Rolfe slap shot from the point during the second period of a 4-1 victory at the Garden over the Golden Seals, breaking his ankle. The three linemates would finish third, fourth and fifth in points that season, with Hadfield the only one getting to 50 goals.

Ratelle plays with a blooded forehead during a Rangers game in the 1970s.Getty Images

But Ratelle’s lasting memory from that season?

“Broken ankle,” he said, only kind of kidding.

Ratelle did return for the Stanley Cup final, which the Rangers lost to the Bruins in six games, but that was the beginning of the end for that era. By 1975, general manager Emile Francis wanted a change, so he brought in the biggest name in the sport with Esposito. It was a trade that was done out of respect for Ratelle, not having to move his family too far and with the Bruins really wanting his skill down the middle.

It was also the move that put Ratelle in Boston, where he stayed for so long and where he grew a deep loyalty — a loyalty that has finally withered, and finally allowed his sweater to be immortalized, put in its rightful place high on Broadway.

“It’s not every day you get your sweater retired up there,” Ratelle said. “So I don’t know how I’m going to feel.”

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