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17th of December 2018

Sport



New York Rangers’ other No. 11 gets his day | The Star

NEW YORK—Vic Hadfield made No. 11 fashionable at Madison Square Garden decades before another New York Ranger made it eternal.

Now the two No. 11s — Hadfield, the first Ranger to score 50 goals in a season, and Mark Messier, who led the team to the Stanley Cup title in 1994 — will forever be linked with red, white and blue banners in the rafters at Madison Square Garden.

Messier’s No. 11 is already there, retired in 2006, two years after his final NHL game. On Sunday, Hadfield became the 10th Rangers player to have his number honoured.

For nearly 25 years, that number has been synonymous with Messier, the captain who helped end the team’s 54-year championship drought in 1994. But 30 years before Messier pulled on the No. 11, Hadfield, a bruising forward, began a 13-season career with the Rangers that ended in 1974. A dominant force on left wing, Hadfield teamed with smooth-skating Jean Ratelle at centre and high-scoring Rod Gilbert on right wing to form the Goal-a-Game, or GAG, line.

Hadfield could score; he could fight; he could essentially assume any role necessary in an era when stars skated together for years. Like Messier, Hadfield also was the captain of the Rangers — for three seasons, including 1971-72, when they reached the Stanley Cup final.

“Vic was a great Ranger, well-respected,” Messier, 57, said. “I watched a lot of hockey as a kid, and I was aware of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic. They seemed to get along very well together, the best sign with any great line. They meshed perfectly.”

Messier, of course, joined the Rangers in a blockbuster trade in October 1991, and less than three years later, he captained them to their first Stanley Cup since 1940.

“He was the one that brought the Cup home and I have a lot of pride for those ’94 guys,” Hadfield, 78, said. “The whole organization is so proud of that team.”

The symmetry of two No. 11s billowing at the Garden heartened Ratelle, who had his own No. 19 raised at the Garden in February. Hadfield is the final member of the GAG line to have his number honoured by the team.

“This is fantastic for Vic and the three of us,” Ratelle said. “It’s rare that a whole line has their sweaters retired. It is as good as it gets.”

Ratelle also played against Messier, when the young Messier was starting out with the Edmonton Oilers and Ratelle was finishing his 21-year NHL career with the Boston Bruins.

“I played in four decades, so I had a chance to play against a lot of players,” said Messier, whose career stretched from 1979 to 2004, including 10 seasons with the Rangers.

Gilbert, the Rangers’ career leader in regular-season goals (406) and points (1,021), said he relished the idea of the two captains being side by side. (They are not the only matched set in the Garden rafters: Andy Bathgate and Adam Graves both had their No. 9 retired.)

“Absolutely the 11s should be together,” said Gilbert, whose No. 7 was the first number retired by the Rangers, in 1979.

There is symmetry in Hadfield’s Rangers career befitting his toughness and scoring prowess. He is fifth in goals with 262 — behind Gilbert, Ratelle, Graves and Bathgate — and fifth in penalty minutes with 1,041.

In fact, when Hadfield scored 50 goals for the Rangers in 1971-72 — becoming only the sixth player at that time to accomplish the feat — he also led the team with 142 minutes in the penalty box.

Hadfield, who also wore No. 11 for Pittsburgh where he finished his career, grew up in Oakville and played junior hockey with the St. Catharines Teepees, where his teammates were future Chicago Blackhawks stars Chico Maki and Stan Mikita.

Hadfield helped the Teepees win the Memorial Cup in 1960, but a year later he was left unprotected by the Blackhawks and claimed by the Rangers in an intraleague draft.

“When I first put on the Rangers sweater, that was the highlight in terms of accomplishing what I set out to do,” Hadfield said. “Nobody was going to tell me I couldn’t play and I was going to do whatever I had to do to help the team win and be successful.”

Hadfield discovered a scoring touch as his career evolved, notching 20 or more goals in each of his last seven seasons with the Rangers, who didn’t win a playoff series with Hadfield until 1971.

The following season, he became Rangers captain and helped them finish with 109 points. In addition to Hadfield’s 50 goals, Gilbert notched 43 and Ratelle had 46, even though he missed the last month of the season after suffering a broken ankle when struck by a teammate’s slap shot.

The Rangers, led by seven goals each from Gilbert and Hadfield, beat defending champion Montreal and swept Chicago to reach the final, where they lost in six games to Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins.

Hadfield’s Rangers were denied the championship they craved, but he had earned admiration from opponents.

Ed Westfall, a member of the champion Bruins in 1972 before joining the expansion New York Islanders and becoming their first captain, said Hadfield was a worthy adversary and a model captain.

“Vic brought a lot of different elements to the Rangers and he could bury you,” Westfall, 78, said. “I lined up against him as right wing to left wing. He was a total player who was strong and tough. He was a respected guy.”

Twelve Rangers players wore the No. 11 between Hadfield and Messier, including Graves, who had it for one game in October 1991 just before the Messier trade. No one has worn it since Messier, who will forever be lauded for leading the 1994 Stanley Cup run that culminated with the Rangers beating Vancouver in Game 7 at the Garden.

Messier understands the swirl of sensations likely to envelop Hadfield as he watches his No. 11 rise before the Rangers play the Winnipeg Jets.

“I know Vic will be overcome with gratitude and emotions, like all of us were,” Messier said. “I don’t think anything can prepare you for that night. You just have to experience it.”

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