Fulltilt Legends: Jean Ratelle
Messier. Leetch. Graves. Howell. Bathgate. Richter. Gilbert. Giacomin. These names will forever hang in the rafters at Madison Square Garden and next season there will be another name joining them: Ratelle. Jean Ratelle is one of the all-time greats in New York Rangers and National Hockey League history. He put up some eye-popping numbers during his time on both Blueshirts and the Boston Bruins. He was a part of one of the most famous lines in NHL history. Ratelle is not often spoken about in the same way as Messier, Leetch, and others are but he truly deserves his day in the sun.
Joseph Gilbert Yvon Jean Ratelle was born on October 3rd, 1940. He played junior hockey for the Guelph Biltmores of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), the Trois-Rivieres Lions of the Eastern Professional Hockey League (EPHL) and the Guelph Royals (formerly known as the Biltmores) of the OHA. before joining the Rangers for the first time during the 1960-61 season.
During his first two seasons with the Biltmores, Ratelle put up 137 points in 102 games. Ratelle played three pro games with the Lions and scored eight points in three games before being sent back down for his last year in juniors. During his last year of junior hockey for the Guelph Royals, Ratelle scored a ridiculous 40 goals to go along with 61 assists for 101 points in 47 games. He was on his way early to establishing the dominance he would show during his NHL career.
The Rangers had a gem on their hands although Ratelle took a few seasons to fully blossom at the NHL level. He ultimately spent a lot of time in the minors before his game really took off. During the 1963-64 season, while playing for the American Hockey League’s Baltimore Clippers, Ratelle sustained a serious back injury that almost derailed his entire career. The injury he sustained required him to get spinal fusion surgery but Ratelle fought through it and in 1964-65 he began his dominance in the NHL.
Overall, Ratelle scored 336 goals and added 481 assists for 817 points during his time on Broadway. He had six seasons of 30+ goals and only dipped below 20 goals once from 1965-1975. After initially being placed in a third line role on the team, he was bumped up to the first line to play with former junior teammate Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield. The trio would go on to be one of the most famous lines in NHL history, nicknamed the Goal-A-Game (GAG) line, due to the trio’s ability to seemingly score every game. Hadfield became the first Ranger to score 50 goals in a season, Gilbert would go on to become the all-time leading scorer in Rangers history and Ratelle would become the second all time later scorer only to be passed later on by Brian Leetch. Ratelle still sits third all-time in points for the Rangers.
Ratelle was a slick passer, was great in the faceoff dot and had a complete all around game. The best season of his career was the 1971-72 season. Ratelle scored 46 goals and assisted on 63 others for 109 points in just 63 games. If not for a late-season ankle injury Ratelle most likely could’ve had his first 50 goal season and could have even won the scoring title. The trio of Hadfield, Gilbert, and Ratelle finished top five in the league in scoring that year. Absolutely mind boggling to see that kind of power that line had. With Ratelle gone due to injury, the Rangers lost in the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins. Could they have won with Ratelle? There are no guarantees but they damn sure would have had a better shot.
Even with the time missed to injury Ratelle still won the Lester B. Pearson award which meant he was the most valuable player as voted on by his peers in the league. He also received the Lady Byng Trophy that year due to his high quality of play and gentlemanly conduct on the ice.
Despite not winning the cup and losing time to injury. Ratelle was selected by team Canada to compete in the first-ever summit series against the Russians. He had four points in those six games played against the Russians and showed just how good of a player he could be even on the international stage. Ratelle was a household name.
Despite how amazing Ratelle played, the saying goes that anyone can be traded, During the 1975-76 season, Ratelle, along with star defensemen Brad Park, was traded to the arch rival Boston Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais. That trade shook the hockey world but life goes on and Ratelle certainly didn’t let the trade slow him down. He went on to have five straight seasons of 70+ points and formed a formidable line with Rick Middleton and Stan Jonathan. Ratelle would retire as a Bruin in 1981 and would move on to coaching for a bit after his retirement.
The one achievement Ratelle was never able to accomplish was winning the Stanley Cup. Ratelle’s teams made it to three Stanley Cup finals but he was never able to get over the hump. Despite his resume lacking a cup win, Ratelle got inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985.
During the course of his entire NHL career, he scored 491 goals and added 776 assists for 1,267 points in 1,281 games. He had 12 70+ point seasons and sits 37th all-time in points on the NHL all-time points list. He is someone who deserves to be talked about more in the annals of the history of the league and when his name and number 19 get lifted into the rafters of Madison Square Garden next season it is sure to be an emotional moment for a man who gave everything he had for the Rangers and became a legend in the process.