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Ratelle: Always a Gentleman, Forever a Ranger

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

There are dozens of ways to describe Jean Ratelle, but the word arguably most associated with No. 19 is "gentleman."

In a game so intense during an era of such physicality, Ratelle played the game the way it was meant to be played: with skill, finesse, an edge and carried himself in a way that left all those he associated with in awe.

"Jean was a true gentleman in every sense of the word," longtime linemate and friend Rod Gilbert said of Ratelle.

The two met when they were 10 years old in Montreal, and it was the start of a friendship that would last through this day. The pair would push each other from Day 1, and not only at hockey. Gilbert and Ratelle played baseball in the summer and helped each other learn the game of golf years later.

"He changed my life," Gilbert said of Ratelle. "There's always someone that is very inspiring in your life. In my case, it was my older brothers and parents of course, but you have a companion that you choose to explore life with and improve with. Jean will be that person forever."

Vic Hadfield entered the picture years later when Ratelle and Gilbert were with the Rangers in New York, but Ratelle's effect on him was just as impactful.

"Jean was a true gentleman on and off the ice," Hadfield said. "Very determined to be the player that he is and was. He was an equal gentleman off the ice with his family and his teammates. He was shy, but around the guys, he was an individual that everyone wanted to be associated with."

The player Ratelle is one of the best the NHL has ever had. Ratelle amassed 491 goals and 1,267 points in 1,281 career games. His time in New York puts him in a class few are a part of regardless of sport.

The Hall of Famer's 336 goals are second in franchise history, while 481 assists and 817 points are both third in the franchise's 91-year history.

"He was an aggressive type of player," Hadfield said. "He could sure play and handle the puck. He played with a lot of determination. He wasn't a big player, but he certainly played big. He was the main center on our hockey club and one of the more popular players."

After time away from the organization, Ratelle will have his homecoming on Feb. 25, 2018 when his jersey will be raised to the rafters.

"Jean Ratelle is truly one of the greatest players to have ever played for the New York Rangers," Glen Sather said. "Few players have demonstrated the class, dignity and gracefulness that Jean possessed throughout his career, both on and off the ice. I had the good fortune to call Jean a teammate with the Rangers, I am proud to still call Jean a friend and … that he will take his rightful place in the rafters of Madison Square Garden."

The night will be emotional for all involved, especially Gilbert, who never gave up hope that the honor would come for his longtime companion, though he knows the humble Ratelle will have difficulty basking in the glory of being center stage at the World's Most Famous Arena.

"We shared so much in our life and our professional life. To see him accepting this honor, I can't wait to witness his conduct," Gilbert said. "He's embarrassed about this stuff. He's the nicest, most gentlemanly person I've ever met. The classiest in my career of all the players, and the closest."

Despite ending his career with the Boston Bruins, Gilbert said in his heart, Ratelle has, and always will be, a Ranger.

"Let me put it this way about Jean: When he was introduced [at the NHL100 event in January], what sweater did he wear? He wore the New York Rangers sweater," Gilbert said. "In his heart, when they bring that banner up, he's going to be emotional. We're all going to applaud him and be so proud that he crossed our path."

On Feb. 25, a Rangers legend returns home to Madison Square Garden when Hall of Famer Jean Ratelle has his No. 19 raised to the rafters. Ratelle Night brings together generations of Rangers fans together to celebrate, thank and honor Jean and his contributions to our rich heritage. LEARN MORE »

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