Making The Case For Retiring Rangers Numbers
A Guest Blog by Tom DeAngelo
First, I’d like to thank Carp for the opportunity to guest blog on a topic for which I have great passion: adding Blueshirt numbers to the World’s Most Famous Ceiling.
As I “celebrate” my 50th season as a fan of our beloved Broadway Blues, I would like to reminisce about one of my favorite nights, the evening of Feb. 22, 2009. In that night’s pregame ceremonies, the Rangers organization righted longstanding wrongs, by retiring the numbers of two Ranger Original Six greats: Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate.
I found delicious irony in the festivities, since Mr. Howell (there is a luggage/pocket book connection here) was the first of many NYR defenseman unfairly subjected to the scorn of the MSG faithful. But of greater significance was the fact that Mr. Bathgate received his honor on the 45th anniversary of his trade to Toronto, liberating him to win the only Stanley Cup of his career in the spring of 1964.
If you do the math on my Rangers “career”, you will notice that I essentially missed the pair’s best seasons, which took place at a low point in team history. The drought of 54 years largely took place because of the club’s World War II break-up (Canada was part of Great Britain, and went to war in 1940), and was exacerbated by rules biased toward restocking the Canadian teams, although nobody north of the 49th Parallel will admit this.
My era was that of Emile Francis. I attended my first two games at the Old Garden on 49th Street, and watched the Saturday away games called by Win Elliot on Channel 9 with my dad on our new Zenith color console. We also attended the legendary “blizzard” game in February, 1969, needing four subway lines to arrive at the Garden from Flatbush.
Based on my own observations and research, I would like to make the case for four players of that era: Brad Park, Ron Greschner, Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle.
We interrupt this blog for a Public Service Announcement:
Sidebars, 1974 Semifinal Game 7 versus Philadelphia
- Dale Rolfe knew his fight with Dave Schultz was staged to get Brad Park out of the game as third man-in with a Final berth on the line. He instructed Park to stay out of the fray.
- Vic Hadfield burst out laughing in the penalty box with a minute left in that 4-3 loss when the league official seated there told him how “proud they were of the Rangers”. Vic found this more than slightly amusing after getting the shaft all series from Wally Harris, Bruce Hood & Co.
And now back to our Guest Blog…
Here are my “nominations” for honor at MSG:
#2 Brad Park – Captain Brad Park was drafted second overall from the Toronto Marlies in 1966. He was the stalwart of the Ranger defense until he was unceremoniously traded to Boston in the Emile Francis’ last stand fire sale of 1975. Until the arrival of Brian Leetch, it was generally understood that we were waiting for another Brad Park.
He was the runner-up for the Norris seven times, having had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Bobby Orr. He was an outstanding two-way player, with stellar seasons in 1971-72 (24-49-73, 130 PIM) and 1973-74 (25-57-82, 148 PIM).
#4 Ron Greschner – Ron Greschner is generally regarded as the fourth best defenseman in Rangers history, in a career that spanned 15 seasons. He scored more than 20 goals four times, and was regarded as one of the best offensive defenseman in the NHL. His biggest Rangers moment was his game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 1979 semifinal against the Islanders, propelling the club into an unexpected berth in the Stanley Cup Final. He served as captain from 1986-87. He is seventh in all-time team scoring with 610 points, and he was tough: first in penalty minutes with 1,266.
#11 Vic Hadfield – Vic Hadfield was also a Rangers captain, taking the reins from Bob Nevin. Making it onto the roster largely as an enforcer, his career became more focused in the 1967-68 season when Emile Francis placed him on the left wing of Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert to form the Goal-A-Game, or GAG Line. His presence gave the two French-Canadians open ice, and established the trio as a dominant No. 1 line.
He never again scored fewer than 20 goals in a season, although he was often injured from bare-knuckled fighting. His crowning achievement was his dynamic 1971-72 season, when he became the first 50-goal scorer in team history, a record he held until Adam Graves scored 52 in 1993-94, since eclipsed by Jaromir Jagr in 2005-06. He accomplished this by scoring numbers 49 and 50 on national TV in the last game of the season versus Montreal. He is fifth all-time in both team goal scoring and penalty minutes.
#19 Jean Ratelle – Jean Ratelle is the greatest Ranger to not have his number retired. A playmaking center in the mold of Jean Beliveau, he spent a great deal of time in the minors at the insistence of coach Red Sullivan, who wanted him to forgo his talents and play a more physical game because of his height. Emile Francis changed all that, reuniting him with his boyhood friend, Rod Gilbert.
Once teamed with Gilbert and Hadfield, the GAG line became a force. The trio put up phenomenal numbers, led by Ratelle’s playmaking. He was leading the NHL in scoring during the 1971-72 season with 46-63-109 in just 63 games, when he was struck by a point shot taken by Dale Rolfe, and suffered a broken ankle, which likely cost the Rangers the Stanley Cup. However, those 109 points remained the franchise record until topped by Jagr in 2005-06 with 123. He also won his first Lady Byng Trophy that season for displaying “gentlemanly conduct” on the ice.
He scored 30 or more goals in six Ranger seasons, and ranks second all-time in goals, third both in assists and points. Along with Park, he was part of the trade to Boston in 1975 that brought Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.
#5 Bill Cook – Original Rangers captain and the leading scorer on first two Stanley Cup teams in 1928 and 1933. He ranks No. 10 in career goals as a Ranger in his 11 seasons. Understand that this was a time when defenseman literally “stayed at home” at their own blue line, and never joined the play. Thus his offensive output was essentially achieved playing 3-on-5.
#7 Frank Boucher – Another original Ranger, he centered brothers Bill and “Bun” Cook on the “Bread Line”, the top offensive unit in the NHL during those early Cup seasons. Considered the Wayne Gretzky of his day for his playmaking ability, he won the first seven Lady Byngs, prompting them to make a new trophy and let him keep the original.
He went on to coach the Rangers 1940 Stanley Cup team, an event with which you might be familiar. As a coach, he created innovations such as the penalty killing “box”, pulling the goalie when trailing, and defensemen who joined the play. He was also instrumental in creation of the red line.
#18 Walt Tkaczuk – Originally known as “Tay-chuck” for three seasons until Marv Albert learned how to correctly pronounce his name, this defensive stalwart finished his career sixth in scoring, fifth in both games played and assists, and first in career playoff games.
#68 Jaromir Jagr – What do we do with this one when he finally retires? The team’s marquee player post Lockout 1, he holds single season franchise records for goals (54) and points (123). Was he a Ranger long enough?
Thanks for your time. I’d like to approach the Rangers on behalf of the “Boneheads” when we have a consensus to nominate who should be honored next.
Photos by Getty Images.