When asked about his favorite memories with the New York Rangers, Vic Hadfield responded with the same honesty and humility that endeared him to Blueshirts fans.
“If there’s one memory, it was the first time I flew into New York and walked into the old Madison Square Garden,” said Hadfield, who turned 78 in October. “To be part of that team, that made me very, very proud. I always remember the first time I pulled on a Rangers sweater. I think about that a lot.”
On Sunday, Hadfield’s No. 11 jersey will join those of other Rangers legends in the Garden rafters prior to the team’s game against the Winnipeg Jets. The team previously retired that number for Mark Messier, who wore it in 1991-1997 and 2000-04.
There’s no question the Oakville, Ontario, native is worthy of the honor. He joined the Rangers as a rookie in 1961 and captained the team for four seasons from 1971 to 1974 as the left wing and de facto bodyguard for linemates Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert on the Goal-a-Game (G-A-G) line. But he had skill as well. Over 13 seasons on Broadway, he scored 262 goals (fifth in franchise history), and he held the team’s single-season goal-scoring record (50 in 78 games) for 22 years, eclipsed later by Adam Graves’ 52 in 1993-94 and Jaromir Jagr’s 54 in 2005-06.
In recent years, the Rangers have been addressing some unfinished business in recognizing great players from the team’s past. All-time leading scorer Gilbert had his No. 7 retired in 1979. Legends Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate, who achieved their greatest success in the 1960s, were honored in 2009 — as was Graves. Hadfield’s other linemate, Ratelle, was recognized last season. It was the classy No. 19 who announced that Hadfield would join the distinguished group this year.
“It came as such a surprise,” Hadfield said. “I came to New York for Jean, and I had dinner with him, Rod, [former Rangers goalie, coach and general manager] Emile Francis and [Rangers president] Glen Sather the night before they retired Jean’s number. None of them said a word.”
Hadfield, who never felt slighted by the organization or expected the honor, said he’d love to see the organization do something for Francis, who is 92 and living in Florida, and at least another of his former teammates. Hadfield speaks to his former coach by phone frequently, and Francis will be in attendance on Sunday.
“The first fellow that comes to me is Brad Park,” said Hadfield, who still lives in Oakville with wife Myrna and runs the local Vic Hadfield Golf and Learning Center. “He was our Bobby Orr.”
On Sunday, it will be Hadfield once again wearing the Rangers sweater with pride.