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Vic Hadfield Legendary Moments No. 3: "Don't Give It Back!"

by Michael Obernauer /

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Vic Hadfield describes himself this way: "I am a Ranger through and through."

He was the captain of the Rangers in the 1970s, the first 50-goal scorer in the history of the franchise, the ultimate teammate - and on Dec. 2, his No. 11 will take its place among the Rangers legends in the Garden rafters. will present 11 of the great moments of Hadfield's career, 11 snapshots of the Blueshirts' legendary left winger, 11 for No. 11 - counting down to the celebration of Vic Hadfield Night presented by Budweiser before the Blueshirts take on the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 2 at Madison Square Garden.

By the end of the 1960s, it was the Rangers who ruled the roost at Madison Square Garden: No longer would the Blueshirts be displaced during the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the circus came to town. But if there were any fans out there who missed seeing a circus at the Garden in the springtime, Vic Hadfield helped bring it back - one night only! - in 1971.

One newspaper reporter from the time called it "the zaniest show on Earth," but over the years it took its place as one of the more famous scenes in hockey history: the final minutes of Game 2 of the NHL quarterfinals, the Rangers against the Toronto Maple Leafs, on April 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

There was nothing zany at the time about the 1970-71 Rangers' Stanley Cup aspirations: Seven different players had scored 20 or more goals during the regular season, most in the League, and their 49 wins and 109 points were second in the 14-team NHL behind only the defending-champion Bruins.

Following a 5-4 Ranger win in the playoff opener at the Garden on April 7, the Leafs punched back the following night in Game 2 - but the game's lasting intrigue only came about long after the outcome had been more or less decided.

Hadfield and Toronto's Jim Harrison had been going at each other all night, and with just under five minutes left and the Leafs leading by three goals it boiled over, and every skater on the ice became embroiled in a melee. Actually, more than just those on the ice - Brad Park and Darryl Sittler darted from the penalty boxes to get involved, and Bernie Parent, the Maple Leafs' goaltender, broke with keeper custom and left his crease to get in between Hadfield and Harrison.

"I reached out to grab him, just to say, 'Stay away, you're a goalkeeper, everything's under control,'" Hadfield told

The Rangers' goaltender, Eddie Giacomin, shared the sentiment, and he came charging from his own net and down the ice to pair off with Parent. As the goaltenders' scuffle ensued, Parent's mask was knocked off his head and fell to the ice. It landed near Hadfield and he picked it up.

"Well, I was right beside the boards," Hadfield explained, "so I just flipped it over the boards. And that was that."

For Bernie Parent, if only that had been the end of it. Once the dust finally settled and all the shed equipment had been claimed, only one piece was missing - and Parent wouldn't go on playing without it.

When he couldn't find it anywhere on the ice and it became apparent that the mask had wound up in the crowd and was being passed around, Maple Leafs management, including King Clancy, a Hall of Famer and at the time a Leafs vice president, began fanning out through the stands in search of the mask, with Garden security and New York policemen alongside.

The Garden crowd began chanting, "Don't give it back!"

"By the time King got there, the guy who's got that mask is in Brooklyn," Emile Francis, who was behind the Ranger bench that night, told through a laugh.

Predictably, the mask did not reappear; Parent wouldn't play without it, and he hadn't brought a spare. Eventually, the Leafs were forced to play the game's final minutes in front of their backup, who happened to be Jacques Plante, the man who had brought the goalie mask into the mainstream when he debuted one in a game 12 years earlier at the old Madison Square Garden.

"Why bother bringing another mask?" the Toronto general manager, Jim Gregory, asked after the game. "Nothing can happen to a mask. You could drop a building on one and it wouldn't break."

The Leafs saw out the final minutes of a 4-1 win behind a pair of goals from Paul Henderson; the Rangers went on to win the series in six. But it took 41 years for the whole episode to find some measure of closure.

There were countless false leads and red herrings as to where the mask had wound up over those years. "You know how many people told me later on in life, in Long Beach and everywhere, people that said, 'Rod, I'm the one that has the mask,'" said Rod Gilbert.

But in the summer of 2012, an anonymous person who had purchased the mask at auction mailed it to Parent. The mask had been a custom piece and included inserts that Parent had put in himself; he recognized it immediately as his own, and confirmed as much as soon as he tried it on.

"It was a huge pain to get a new mask, it takes six to eight months to get a new one molded and cured," Parent said in a 2012 interview. "You always wonder what happened to it. Now, after 41 years, it's here. Life is full of surprises."

Parent had planned to return it to the buyer, who would bequeath it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He added: "The first thing I wanted to do when I saw the mask was to call Hadfield and say, 'Thanks."

READ MORE: Vic Hadfield Legendary Moments No. 4: Hat Trick vs. Hawks in '71 Playoffs

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