Saturday, March 11, 2017

1996 Finland National Team Raimo Helminen Jersey

After beginning his career in the Ilves Tampere junior system, including making his international debut at the European Junior Championships for Finland in 1982, Raimo Helminen made his debut their senior team in the Finnish SM-liiga for the 1982-83 season with 31 games while he split his time with the junior team that season.

For 1983-84, Helminen, born on this date in 1964, won a silver medal at the World Junior tournament in 1984 and just one month later he made his Olympic debut in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia where the 19 year old appeared in six games, scoring 2 points.

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Helminen with Ilves in 1983-84

Helminen finished third in league scoring for Ilves with 21 goals and a career best 57 points in 36 games in 1984-85 as the club won their first league championship in their history. He then made his debut at the 1985 World Championships where he continued his offensive output with 4 goals and 9 points in 10 games.

Helminen had been drafted by the New York Rangers in 1984 and moved to the NHL for the 1985-86 season, appearing in 66 games, scoring 10 goals and 40 points as a rookie. He was back with the Rangers for the 1986-87 season, but things did not go nearly as well, as he only produced 6 points in 21 games and spent time with New Haven in the AHL before a late season trade saw him sent to the Minnesota North Stars for the final 6 games of the season.

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New York Ranger Raimo Helminen

Before the next season began, Helminen was back on the international stage, playing for Finland in the 1987 Canada Cup tournament. He was back in Tampere with Ilves, racking up 43 points in 31 games, including 20 goals. He also appeared in his second Olympics, scoring 10 points in 7 games as Finland won their first ever medal with a silver in Calgary.

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Helminen while playing for Finland in the late 1980's
Note the green gloves from Ilves

He gave the NHL another try in 1988-89, this time with the New York Islanders, but his play was hampered by back problems. He would total 24 NHL games that season and another 16 with the Springfield Indians of the AHL, where he averaged a point per game.

For 1989-90, he moved to Malmö IF in the Swedish second division, where he starred with 26 goals and 56 points in 29 games to help Malmö earn a promotion to the Swedish Elitserien for the following season.

Helminen would play the next six seasons for Malmö, which included becoming the first foreign born player to win the Swedish scoring title in 1993, with 42 points in 40 games, and winning a league championship in 1992 and again in 1994, a season during which he scored 20 goals and 54 points in 38 games.

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Helminen during his time in Sweden with Malmö

During this time period Helminen played in his third and fourth Olympics in 1992 and again 1994, earning a bronze medal as well as playing in the World Championships in 1992 (silver) and 1994 (silver). He was also a member of the first Finnish World Championship winning team in 1995 when the Finns defeated the Swedes in Sweden, triggering joyous celebrations back home in Finland. Helminen contributed 8 points in 8 games on his way to the gold medal.

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Helminen skates away from a sprawling American goaltender
Garth Snow during the 1994 Olympics

1996 was also a busy year for him internationally, as he participated in both the World Championships in the spring and then the inaugural World Cup of Hockey that fall prior to returning to Tampere to play for Ilves from 1996-97 onward.

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Helminen back with Ilves

He was named Player of the Year in 1998 and named team captain in 1999, a position he would hold through the remainder of his long career. He continued to score at a high pace, reaching 50 points twice and topped 40 five times over the next eight seasons, an impressive feat considering the shorter Finnish season, having never played more than 56 games in any season. During his final season of play in 2007-08, he was the oldest player in the league at 44 years of age.

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Helminen during his retirement ceremony

His international career also continued to rack up successes as the Finns were now a nation to be reckoned with. Helminen would play in the 1997 World Championships, the 1998 Olympics (bronze), the 1998 World Championships (silver), the 1999 (silver), 2000 (bronze), 2001 (silver) and 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The 2002 Olympics were Helminen's record sixth Olympic Games.

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Helminen battles Mats Sundin of Sweden
during the 1998 World Championships

That fall he would play in his 11th and final World Championships to conclude his full international career with one World Championship gold, seven silver (one World Junior, five World Championship and one Olympic) and three bronze medals, two Olympic and one at the World Championship. 

He would continue to play for Ilves until the 2007-08 season before announcing his retirement after 751 games, 161 goal and 420 assists for 581 points in Finland as well as 226 games and 199 points in Sweden's Elitserien and another 117 games and 59 points in the NHL.

Helminen holds the record for the most international games at 331, scoring 52 goals and 207 points, with his 155 assists and 207 points being Finnish career records internationally.

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Helminen was recognized when he set the
record for most international appearances

His number 41 was retired by Ilves and Helminen was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2012.

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Ilves honored Helminen by retiring his #41

Today's featured jersey is a 1996 Finland National Team Raimo Helminen jersey from the inaugural World Cup of Hockey. This attractive "waving flag" style of jersey marked Nike's entry into being the jersey supplier for the IIHF, which continues to this day. This style was worn through the 1997 World Championships until new styles were debuted for the 1998 Olympics.

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Finland 1996 jersey photo Finland1996Bjerseycopy.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1987-88 Minnesota North Stars Dave Ganger jersey which was previously worn by Helminen during his six games with the North Stars at the end of the 1986-87 season. During that time period a jersey with so much life remaining it in would generally be reused after simply swapping one player's nameplate for another, giving some jerseys an interesting but sometimes difficult to prove history.

Occasionally, jerseys would also undergo number changes as well, further clouding it's past and requiring nearly forensic examination for evidence of changes in customization to suggest previous wearers.

Minnesota North Stars 1987-88 jersey photo MinnesotaNorthStars1987-88Fjersey.jpg
Minnesota North Stars 1987-88 jersey photo MinnesotaNorthStars1987-88Bjersey.jpg

Here is a look at the career if Helminen followed by an interview with him in Finnish.


Friday, March 10, 2017

1977-78 Cleveland Barons Dennis O'Brien Jersey

Dennis O'Brien played his junior hockey with the St. Catharines Black Hawks in the Ontario Hockey League in 1968-69. The defenseman was then selected by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft in the second round, 14th overall.

He spent the entire 1969-70 season honing his craft with the Iowa Stars of the Central Hockey League, the only season that edition of the Stars would exist. While with Iowa, he was credited with 20 points from 2 goals and 18 assists in 72 games while amassing a league leading 331 penalty minutes, 73 more than the notorious Andre "Moose" Dupont.

During the following season of 1970-71, O'Brien split time between the minor league Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League and made his NHL debut with the North Stars of the NHL. He played exactly 27 games with each team and scored his first NHL goal on his way to a total of three for the season. When the North Stars qualified for the playoffs, O'Brien got his first taste of postseason play with nine games for the North Stars.

O'Brien North Stars
O'Brien during his early days with the North Stars

Now established as a genuine NHLer, O'Brien would play six full seasons on the Minnesota blueline. His stay at home, hard hitting defensive style would not earn him many points, but it would make him a steady, reliable member of the North Stars defensive corps. In five of his six seasons in Minnesota, O'Brien would play at least 70 games five times with a high of six goals and 24 points in 1976-77.

O'Brien North Stars
O'Brien during the 1976-77 season,
wearing the next generation of North Stars jersey

O'Brien would begin his eighth season with the North Stars in 1977-78 but after 13 games he was claimed on waivers by the Colorado Rockies on December 2, 1977. He would see action in 16 games for the Rockies before being traded to the Cleveland Barons on January 12, 1978. He would log 23 games in Cleveland prior to again being placed on waivers. Then on this date in 1978, O'Brien became the first player in NHL history to be with four different NHL teams in one season when he was claimed by the Boston Bruins!

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O"Brien during his brief time in Cleveland

Once with Boston his situation was again settled, as there was still enough time to play in the Bruins final 16 games of the regular season and contribute to the Bruins playoff effort, as Boston made it all the way to the 1978 Stanley Cup Finals.

After all the movement from team to team to team to team the previous season, O'Brien must have been relieved to play the entire 1978-79 season with the Bruins, save for a pair of games with the Rochester Americans in the AHL.


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O'Brien found a measure of stability in Boston

O'Brien briefly laced up his skates for one final season in 1979-80 with three games with the Bruins and six games with the Binghamton Dusters in the AHL before retiring.

His final stats were 592 games played, scoring 13 goals and 91 assists for 122 points and 1,017 penalty minutes, with his highest being 187 in 1975-76.

Today's featured jersey is a 1977-78 Cleveland Barons Dennis O'Brien jersey as worn during his record setting season during which he became the first player to play for four different NHL teams in a single season. To date, only one other player has equalled that amount, Dave McLlwain in 1992, who coincidentally joined his fourth team on the same date of March 10th.

The Barons only existed for two seasons, yet there are detail differences between the jerseys used both years. This particular jersey does not have the state of Ohio shaped sleeve patches, which contained the arm numbers during the Barons first season. Additionally, the sleeve numbers were relocated to the red shoulder areas for their second and final season. Also, the sans-serif font for the player names was changed to a serifed font as seen on today's featured jersey.

Cleveland Barons 77-78 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1970-71 Minnesota North Stars Dennis O'Brien jersey as worn during his rookie season in the NHL. The North Stars wore this particular style from the start of their second season of 1968-69 through 1971-72 and always without names on the back.

Minnesota North Stars 1978-79 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's video clip is a pretty intense fight between the Cleveland Barons and the Boston Bruins, two of the clubs O'Brien played for in 1977-78.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The 2017 Minnesota State High School Boy's Hockey Tournament

The 2017 Minnesota State Boys' Hockey Tournament continues today with the start of the Class AA tournament following yesterday's Class A Quarterfinals. Class AA consists of the top 64 schools by enrollment in the state and Class A is for the remaining schools. In terms of enrollment, Class AA is roughly for schools with 1,200 students or more, with the largest of the Twin Cities suburban schools reaching enrollments of 3,000.

Often compared to the Indiana State Boys' Basketball Tournament or the Texas and Florida State Football Tournaments as the most important nationally for their sport, the Minnesota State Boys' Hockey Tournament is a four day festival of excitement, color and sound as the parents, relatives, fans, cheerleaders (on skates!) and bands from 16 schools all travel to the state capital of St. Paul to cheer on their teams as they compete on the ice at the home of the Minnesota Wild, the Xcel Energy Center, in front of sellout crowds of up to 19,500 fans!



Such is the stature of the tournament, that in 2014 KSTC-TV brought in no less a talent than nationally known broadcaster Gary Thorne to handle the television play-by-play duties along side Minnesota hockey legend, Lou Nanne's expert commentary, with last year being Nanne's 53rd year working the state high school tournament.

The tournament began back in 1945 in St. Paul. After a stop at the home of the Minnesota North Stars, the Met Center, for eight years in the 1970's, the tournament returned to St. Paul at the new St. Paul Civic Center, known for it's clear boards, which you can see below in one of today's videos. For nearly 50 years the tournament was played as an eight team, single class tournament, which lent itself to classic David versus Goliath matchups, as the smaller schools from the northern part of the state traveled down to the big city to take on some of the largest schools attendance-wise in the state.

Somewhat controversially, the tournament split into two classes in 1994 based on enrollment. While schools in the smaller enrollment Class A have the option to move up and play in Class AA, the tournament lost something special in the process. Still, it is the largest state sports tournament in the United States in terms of attendance and viewership, as all the championship bracket games are broadcast on local television and 135,618 fans attending in 2015.

Despite the Xcel Energy Center having hosted NHL playoff conference finals, the 2004 NHL All-Star Game and the NCAA Frozen Four twice, with the nearby University of Minnesota winning the title in 2002 and the in-state University of Minnesota Duluth taking home the national championship in St. Paul in 2011, on March 4, 2016 22,244 fans attended the semifinals of the state tournament, setting a new record for the largest crowed to ever attend a hockey game in Minnesota, breaking the record of 21,609, which was also a session of the State High School Tournament in 2015.

Many NHL veterans have participated in the tournament, including Neal Broten, Phil Housley, Reed Larson, John Mayasich, Mike Antonovich, Henry Boucha, Mark Parrish and current NHLers T. J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals, the New York Islanders Brock Nelson and Blake Wheeler, captain of the Winnipeg Jets. Of the 19 Minnesota players taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft between 2000 and 2009, 13 of them played in the state tournament.

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Phil Housley of the South St. Paul Packers

Many rivalries, dynasties, villains and favorites have emerged over the years, with small schools from up north such as Eveleth, Greenway of Coleraine, International Falls and Warroad always being sentimental favorites. Roseau, in particular, has been one of the only small schools (with an enrollment of just 341 compared to 27 Twin Cities schools between 2000-3100 students, and well below the 1,300 cut-off point for Class AA status) to move up to AA and succeed with championships in 1999 and 2007.

Other schools have had their runs, with Eveleth in the late 40's/early 50's, International Falls in the 1960's, Bloomington Jefferson dominating in the early 1990's, but none more so than Edina, with 12 championships, the first coming in 1969, four in the 1970's, three in the 1980's, one in 1997 and most recently in 2010 and back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. All those titles, as well as seemingly annual tournament appearances, put the Hornets at the top of the list of "teams you love to hate", as teams from the tony Minneapolis suburb Edina are considered to be "the rich kids", even sporting green and gold jerseys in the color of money, earning the Hornets the derisive nickname the "Cake Eaters", which they annoyingly wholly embrace!

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Edina celebrating one of their 12 state titles

Aside from Edina, schools on the outs with the general public are the private schools, such as The Academy of Holy Angels (champions in 2002 and 2005), Hill-Murray (1983, 1991, 2008) and most recently St. Thomas Academy (who played in the smaller Class A, winning championships in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013 until moving up to Class AA in 2014).

Those private schools are considered to have the advantage of being able to recruit the best players to attend their schools rather than take what comes their way in the case of the traditional public schools who draw students from their local geographic region. This "class war" is an age old argument between the public and private schools and is only magnified with the arrival of a smaller school from the north, such as when tiny Roseau makes an appearance in St. Paul, and is one of the driving forces behind the ongoing popularity of the tournament, as every great drama must have its villain.

Since its inception, Class A has been a battle between the smaller private schools, with Benilde-St. Margaret's, St. Thomas Academy, Totino-Grace and Breck winning 12 championships and the smaller schools from the northern part of the state now given a chance to compete for a state title, with classic schools like Eveleth and International Falls able to win their first titles since the early 1970's and first time winners like Hermantown, Red Wing and four time Class A champion Warroad flying the flag for the public schools who have captured 13 titles since the two class system was introduced.

The 2012 Class AA tournament was won by Benilde-St. Margaret's, whose players all wore large patches in support of paralyzed teammate Jack Jablonski. Tied at 2-2 with less than a minute remaining in the semifinals, the Red Knights scored the game winning goal with less than 24 seconds remaining. They then stormed to the championship when Grant Besse set twitter ablaze with his five goal performance, three of which were shorthanded(!), as the Red Knights steamrolled Hill-Murray 5-1 to win an emotional championship with all thoughts on Jablonski, who was in attendance to enjoy the storybook victory that will be talked about for years to come.

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Benilde-St. Margaret's players wearing
#13 patches in support of Jack Jablonski

This year's tournament began Wednesday with the quarterfinals in Class A with Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake (MAML) from 25 miles northwest of the Twin Cities metro area vs #2 Delano from 20 miles west of the metro area, with the MAML pulling off the upset 3-2 win. #3 Mahtomedi from northeast area of the Twin Cities faced Northfield from 20 miles south of the Twin Cities, with the Raiders prevailing 3-1 to advance to face Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake. Defending champions and #1 ranked Hermantown from just northwest of Duluth, took on Luverne from the far southwest corner of the state, with Hermantown surviving with a 3-2 overtime win. Finally in the nightcap, the only private school in Class A, #5 St. Cloud Cathedral from an hour northwest of the Twin Cities faced #4 ranked East Grand Forks from the northwest corner of the state on the border with North Dakota, with Cathedral Crusaders winning 6-3 to advance to face favored 27-1-1 Hermantown.

Class AA begins today and sees a vastly different looking field than tournament regulars would expect to see. During section playoffs, upsets abounded with many of the top ranked teams falling and falling early, as #1 Benilde-St. Margaret's, #3 Minnetonka, #4 Holy Family Catholic, #5 Blaine, defending champions #7 Lakeville North, seemingly annual participant #11 Edina, #12 Elk River, #13 Duluth East, #14 St. Thomas Academy, #15 Centennial, also virtually annual participant #16 Hill-Murray all failing to make it to St. Paul this year. And of those who did make it to the State Tournament, not one of the field of eight is a private school for only the fourth time since 2000.

In today's first game, #2 St. Thomas Academy (23-4-1), a private school from the Twin Cities takes on Lakeville South (18-9-1) from the southern edge of the metro area. The survivor of that game will face the winner of #3 Moorhead (22-3-3), another school from the northwest part of the state across the Red River from Fargo, North Dakota, and Hill-Murray (19-5-4), a private school from St. Paul and virtually annual state tournament participant.

The upper half of the Class AA bracket that plays in the evening session begins with a rematch of last year's championship game, defending state champions Wayzata (10-17-1) from the west metro area facing the #1 rated Eden Prarie (21-4-2) squad, led by arguably the best player in the state and future University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Casey Mittelstadt, whose decision to return for his senior season of high school hockey and shoot for a state title for his school with his friends rather than leave school to play junior hockey was written up in no less than the New York Times! Despite Wayzata being the only team in the tournament with a losing record, they are battle tested, having played in the toughest conference in the state and had a hellish non-conference schedule to prepare them for today's game. The final game of the day sees the only classic Iron Range school #5 Grand Rapids (20-7-1) from northern Minnesota 3 hours drive from St. Paul facing #4 Maple Grove (22-6) from the northwest Twin Cities suburbs, with the winner facing the team that advances out of the Wayzata vs. Eden Prairie clash.

Eden Prairie has to like the way things have gone so far, as #2 Edina, #3 Stillwater, #4 Holy Family, #5 Centennial, #7 Elk River and #8 Lakeville North, as ranked by the Let's Play Hockey newspaper, all fell in the section playoffs and they then drew the only team with a losing record in the tournament and their #1 ranking allows them to avoid the #2 and #3 tournament seeds until a possible meeting in the championship final.

It's a huge deal to make it "to state" in Minnesota. This past week thousands of fans attended the eight section finals just for right to go to the state tournament, which for the kids involved means staying in a hotel in the big city, playing in an NHL arena with your buddies that you grew up with in front of all your family and friends while having your games televised live throughout the state. Many players have gone on to win national championships in college and even in the NHL, and over and over again when asked for their greatest hockey memory, the answer frequently comes back "playing in the state tournament in high school." Not necessarily winning it, just playing in it.

Once, a hockey writer quoted former three time national champion University of Minnesota and 1980 "Miracle on Ice" USA Olympic coach Herb Brooks as saying that winning a state championship with St. Paul Johnson in 1955 was one of the best moments in his career. Brooks called the writer to inform him that he had been misquoted. He said it was the best moment.

Herb Brooks Johnson 1955, Herb Brooks Johnson 1955
Herb Brooks, back row far right, celebrating with his St. Paul Johnson
teammates after winning the state championship in 1955

Moose, Tigers, Zephyrs, Raiders, Hawks, Cardinals, Crusaders, Green Wave, Cadets, Cougars, Spuds, Pioneers, Trojans, Eagles, Thunderhawks and Crimson.

16 teams, 4 days, 135,000 fans, some seriously bad hair, 16 bands, 2 champions. There's nothing else quite like it!

And just how important has the hockey hair become to the tournament? Last year sports broadcasting powerhouse ESPN sent former Los Angeles Kings head coach and their lead hockey analyst Barry Melrose to do a feature story, not on the hockey games, but the hockey hair, popularized by the All Hockey Hair Team videos posted annually on You Tube since 2011. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Minneflowta.



Today's featured jersey is a 2005 Warroad Warriors Zach Larson jersey. This jersey was worn by players at Warroad High School from 2001 to half way through the 2008-09 season. Warroad won the Class A championship in 2003 and 2005 wearing jerseys from this set.

Larson defied superstition and wore this jersey during their undefeated (29-0-2) championship season of 2005 and was a teammate to current Washington Capitals and 2014 United States Olympic standout Oshie, who is the all-time leading scorer in Warroad history with 104 goals and 137 assists for 241 points in just 93 games. Oshie led the entire state of Minnesota in 2004-05 with 37 goals and 100 points.

Warroad Warrior T. J. Oshie

Other notable hockey players to come from Warroad include United States Olympian Gigi Marvin, current New York Islander Brock NelsonDave Christian, a member of the Miracle on Ice 1980 gold medal winning USA Olympic team, who would go on to play 15 NHL seasons with Winnipeg, Washington, Boston, St. Louis and Chicago, Dave's father Bill Christian and uncle, the late Roger Christian, who won gold medals in the 1960 Olympics, and Boucha, a 1972 silver Olympic medalist who would play for Detroit, Minnesota, Kansas City and Colorado of the NHL. During it's history, no United States Olympic hockey team has ever won a gold medal without having a player on the team from tiny Warroad!

This is a classic looking jersey in the style and colors of the old Boston Bruins jerseys of the mid 70's to the mid 90's and is one of the few remaining schools to use a Native American nickname and imagery, while others such as Grand Rapids, Minneapolis Southwest and Burnsville all discontinued their use. The use of the Warriors name by Warroad High School is approved by the local Ojibwe band of Chippewa Indians who designed the logo used on the Warriors jerseys.

Due to the multiple years of service the jerseys often see, names on the back are seldom, if ever, worn on high school jerseys.

Warroad Warriors 2001-2008 jersey photo WarroadWarriors2001-2008F.jpg
Warroad Warriors 2001-2008 jersey photo WarroadWarriors2001-2008B.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is an Anoka Tornadoes jersey. While many schools create brand new logos for their teams, such as Warroad's locally designed logo, many other appropriate logos from various professional and college teams, either directly or slightly modified. Anoka has been using the logo from the NHL's defunct Atlanta Flames for years, resisting the urge to change the flames in the center of the logo to a tornado, saving that for frequent use as their secondary shoulder logo.

2003 state champions Anoka have been home to one NHLer, Steve Alley, who played 105 games for the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA in 1977-78 and 1978-79 and 15 games for the Hartford Whalers divided between 1979-80 and 1980-81.

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Anoka High School jersey photo Anoka High School B jersey.jpg

Let's see if we can possibly capture the event, spirit and emotion of the tournament with today's video selections, beginning with a look at last year's excitement.




Here's some classic footage from 1984 with St. Paul Johnson defeating Hill-Murray showing the unique clear boards from the St. Paul Civic Center and everyone wearing Cooperalls!


Check out the explosion of joy as Hill-Murray captures the state title in 2008 over Edina.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The GAG Line - Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield

The formation of the New York Rangers famous GAG Line actually dates back to 1950 in the suburbs of Montreal when Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle were just 10 years old. Gilbert lived next to the Brothers of Sacred Heart School where Ratelle was a student. The both played pickup hockey on the school grounds and became good friends. Gilbert recalls, when I first saw him on the ice, I said, "You play with me all the time, okay?" Two years later the duo even played at the Montreal Forum in the finals of a peewee tournament.

When he was just 14, Gilbert was signed to play junior hockey by Yvon Prud'homme, who worked for the New York Rangers. Gilbert told Prud'homme, "I have a friend I've been playing with since I was a kid and he's better than me. Sign him up and we'll play together." Prud'homme took the teenage Gilbert's scouting advice and signed Ratelle without ever seeing him play.

The pair played together for the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, renamed the Guelph Royals in 1960, junior hockey from 1958-59 through 1960-61. Right wing Gilbert led the team in scoring in 1959-60 with 39 goals and 91 points while center Ratelle was right with him, scoring an equal 39 goals on his way to 86 points as the duo finished second and third in the Ontario Hockey Association.

1959-60 OHA All-Stars
Gilbert and Ratelle were on the 1959-60 OHA All-Star Team

The following season Gilbert again led the team with 54 goals and 103 points with Ratelle again second with 40 goals and 101 points for the Royals as the pair finished 1-2 in OHA scoring, 14 points clear of their nearest pursuer. Both players also made their NHL debuts that season, with Ratelle playing 3 games, scoring twice, while Gilbert played for the Rangers once.

Gilbert Rangers 2
Gilbert debuted with one game in 1960-61

Meanwhile, Vic Hadfield was playing his way toward the NHL via a different route, playing junior hockey for the St. Catharines Teepees of the OHA and the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL. Hadfield, claimed by New York from the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1961 Intra-League Draft, made his Rangers debut in 1961-62, seeing action in 44 games, but only scoring 3 goals and 1 assist, giving little clues as to what was to come.

In 1964, Gilbert and Ratelle's junior hockey coach Emile Francis became the Rangers General Manager and the following season, their Head Coach. One of his first moves was to put the large and rugged Hadfield on a line with Gilbert and Ratelle for the 1965-66 season. Up to that point, the Rangers had missed the playoffs seven out of the last eight seasons, a difficult feat in an era where four of the six NHL teams made the playoffs.

After missing the playoffs his first season as head coach when Francis took over 20 games into the schedule, the Rangers would make the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons.

Up to this point, Gilbert had had some success at the NHL level, scoring 24 goals and 64 points in 1963-64 and 25 goals a year later. Hadfield's best season to date was 18 goals and 38 points in 1964-65 while Ratelle had only managed a high of 14 goals and 35 points.

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Rod Gilbert

It took the newly created line some time to find their game as Gilbert only played in 34 games in 1965-66 and the lowly Rangers finished in the basement with just 18 wins in 70 games, 27 points out of a playoff spot.

For the 1966-67 season, Ratelle was the one who had to deal with an injury, as he only saw time in 41 games, scoring a dismal 11 points. Meanwhile, Gilbert returned to health and set a new career best with 28 goals. The rest of the Rangers roster was on the upswing was well, as Francis added key pieces such as goaltender Ed Giacomin, and the club improved to a winning 30-28-12 record for a 25 point increase and their first spot in the playoffs since 1962.

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Gilbert, Hadfield and Ratelle celebrate a goal against the rival Bruins

The hockey landscape was forever changed with the 1967-68 season when the NHL expanded by six teams, doubling the size of the league. This played into the hands of the established Original 6 clubs, as the newcomers were soundly defeated by the established teams on a regular basis, as many players not nearly good enough to play in the previous version of the six team NHL were now regular competition for the veteran clubs. While it was Hadfield's turn to have a limited season, playing in 59 of the Rangers 74 games, it was enough for him to score 20 goals, while Gilbert hit new highs with 29 goals and 77 points while Ratelle led the team in scoring with 32 goals and 78 points as he and Gilbert finished fourth and fifth in the NHL scoring race behind the likes of Stan Mikita (87), Phil Esposito (84) and Gordie Howe (82) and ahead of Bobby Hull (75), putting them among the league's elite.

rod-gilbert 1967 SI
Rod Gilbert on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1967

As the Hadfield-Ratelle-Gilbert line totaled 81 goals in 74 games, the New York sportswriters dubbed the line the GAG Line, which stood for Goal-A-Game.

"Jean and I knew each other's moves so well, we didn't even have to look," said Gilbert. "We needed someone who could do some of the dirty work in the corners and position himself in front of the net without being pushed around. Vic Hadfield was the perfect compliment for us."

"I was aggressive, and being aggressive for so long, I had more space on the ice because people stayed away from me. You have to stick with what go you there," said Hadfield scouting his own style of play.

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Vic Hadfield attacking the Kings goal

In 1968-69, the line lived up to their nickname, scoring a combined 86 goals as they finished one, two, three in Rangers scoring, led by Ratelle's 32 goals and 78 points. Once again, Gilbert was a single point back with 77 while Hadfield had 26 goals and 66 points, a leap forward for him, having never scored even 40 previously.

Ratelle Rangers 2
Ratelle led New York in scoring in 1969

While Ratelle had 32 goals and 74 points in 1969-70, Walt Tkaczuk led the Rangers with 77 as they were fifth and sixth in the NHL. Hadfield managed 20 goals and 54 points, while Gilbert had a down year with 16 goals and 53 points in 72 games.

For the 1970-71 campaign, Tkaczuk edged Ratelle 75 points to 72 while Gilbert returned to form with a 30 goal, 61 point season for third on the team. Hadfield meanwhile, had his fourth consecutive 20 goal season with 22.

GAG Line Rangers Pictures, Images and Photos
The GAG Line, Hadfield, Ratelle and Gilbert

It all finally came good for the GAG Line in 1971-72 when everything turned to gold. On February 17th at the Los Angeles Kings, Ratelle scored his 40th goal of the season from Gilbert and defenseman Brad Park.

On February 23rd, Hadfield, who had been named the Rangers team captain that season, hit 40 at home in Madison Square Garden with assists from Gilbert and Ratelle.

Then, on this date in 1972, five games later, Gilbert scored his 40th goal of the season from Jim Neilson and Bobby Rousseau to make the GAG Line the first line in NHL history with three 40 goal scorers during a 3-3 tie against Chicago.

Over the Rangers final dozen games, the trio did not slow down, as they completed their dream season as Ratelle finished with 46 goals and 63 assists for 109 points. Hadfield remarkably finished with 50 goals and 56 assists for 106 points, never having more than 31 goals in any other season in his 16 year NHL career. Hadfield was also the first Rangers player to ever score 50 goals in a season.

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Hadfield celebrates becoming the first Ranger
to score 50 goals in a season

Gilbert was third on the club with 43 goals and 54 assists for 97 points. All three players set career highs in goals, assists and points, save Gilbert who had 61 assists three seasons later. It was the only 100 point season for Ratelle and Hadfield.

Overall, Ratelle was third, Hadfield fourth and Gilbert fifth in league scoring and in goals, Hadfield (2nd), Ratelle (5th) and Gilbert (7th), and in assists, Ratelle (3rd), Hadfield (4th) and Gilbert (6th) were all on the league leader board. Impressively, Ratelle's team leading 109 points came from just 63 games, as he was leading Esposito in the scoring race when he broke his ankle and missed a month of the season.

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Hadfield, Ratelle and Gilbert

In the playoffs, the Rangers defeated the defending champion Montreal Canadiens in six games and the previous season's other finalist, the Black Hawks, in four straight to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the only time in the history of the line, only to run into the Esposito and Bobby Orr led Boston Bruins at their peak, who denied the Rangers the cup in six games, thanks in part to the injury to Ratelle, who was limited to just six ineffective playoff games, scoring just one assist.

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Ratelle battling the Bruins Derek Sanderson

The line would play two more seasons together with Ratelle leading the team in scoring again in 1972-73 with 41 goals and 94 points (sixth overall) and Gilbert second with 25 goals and 84 points while Hadfield had 28 goals. During their final season together, the GAG Line lived up to their name yet again, combining for 91 goals in 78 games, as Gilbert was second behind Park's 82 points with 36 goals and 77 points as Ratelle had 28 goals and 67 points while Hadfield had 27 goals and 55 points, his seventh consecutive season of 20 goals or more for New York.

The line was broken up on May 27, 1974 when Rangers captain Hadfield was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a cost saving move. He would have a pair of 30 goal seasons for the Penguins until a knee injury early in the 1976-77 season ended his career. His final career totals were 1,002 games played with 323 goals and 389 assists for 712 points.

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Rangers captain Hadfield

Ratelle was the next to leave, dealt to the Bruins in a blockbuster deal that saw himself, Park and Joe Zanussi in exchange for Esposito and Carol Vadnais after 13 games of the 1975-76 season. He continued to excel with the Bruins, scoring 30 goals twice and 25 or more three additional times. His career was the longest of the three, with his last season being 1980-81, his sixth with the Bruins. Ratelle would lead the Rangers in scoring four times and the Bruins twice. He would finish his career with 1,281 games played with 491 goals and 776 assists for 1,267 points and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985. Individually, he won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1971 and the Lady Byng Trophy in both 1972 and 1976. The Rangers have announced that they will retire Ratelle's jersey #19 during the 2017-18 season.

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Jean Ratelle led the Rangers in scoring four times

Gilbert would play four more seasons for the Rangers, including equaling his stellar 1971-72 point total in 1974-75 when he had 36 goals and a career high 61 assists for 97 points to lead the Rangers for the second of three times. He again had 36 goals in 1975-76, his fifth season of 30 goals or more. Gilbert's final totals were 1,065 games played, all with the Rangers, 406 goals and 615 assists for 1,021 points. He won the Masterton Trophy in 1976 and the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1991. His #7 was retired in 1979, the first number retired in the 54 year history of the Rangers. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.

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Gilbert played 18 seasons with the Rangers

Today's first featured jersey is a 1971-72 New York Rangers Vic Hadfield jersey. The Rangers wore only blue jerseys for their first 25 seasons, finally adding a white jersey in 1951-52. Other than detail changes, such as the addition of sleeve numbers in 1963 and names on the back in 1970, which then became vertically arched in 1990, the Rangers white jerseys are unchanged since their introduction over 65 years ago, making them a true classic in the history of the NHL.

New York Rangers 1972-73 F jersey
New York Rangers 1972-73 B jersey

Today's second featured jersey is a 1971-72 New York Rangers Jean Ratelle jersey. The Rangers debuted in 1926 wearing jerseys not too dissimilar to the one worn by Ratelle in 1971-72. The original white lettering changed to red for their second season of play. The font still used for the cresting arrived in 1941 and the drop shadow on both the crest and the numbers came a year later. In 1951 the laces were added to the collar and they arrived at today's style when the sleeve numbers arrived in 1963.

This jersey would be used through 1975-76 before a new, modern jersey was worn for two seasons with the Rangers shield as the main crest. In 1978-79, this style returned, only with Rangers replaced by "New York" on the front until reverting back to "Rangers" in 1987.

 photo New York Rangers 1971-72 F jersey.jpg
 photo New York Rangers 1971-72 B jersey.jpg

Today's third featured jersey is a 1971-72 New York Rangers Rod Gilbert jersey as worn during the GAG Line's record setting season when all three members became the first line in which each member scored 40 goals.

Gilbert wore #7 for a combination of reasons, first being the #9 he wore in juniors was in use by Rangers star Andy Bathgate, #7 was popular in New York due to Mickey Mantle and there were seven members of Gilbert's family, counting his parents and four siblings.

New York Rangers 1971-72 F jersey
New York Rangers 1971-72 B jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1977-78 New York Rangers Rod Gilbert jersey from his final season in the NHL after the departure of both Hadfield and Ratelle, making him the only one of the three to wear this style, which was first introduced by then General Manager John Ferguson Sr. in the 1976-77 season and was the first departure in club history from the iconic diagonal "RANGERS" cresting.

photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

After proving unpopular with the tradition bound Rangers fans, this style was only used for two seasons, the first without names on the back of the road jerseys and, thanks to a new NHL rule requiring them, with them on the back for the 1977-78 season. Names were always worn on the home white jerseys.

After being let go by the Rangers in 1978, Ferguson became the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets and reprized the exact same jersey template for the Jets beginning with their inaugural NHL season in 1979, with the only differences being the font for the name and numbers and, naturally, the team logo. The Jets would use this style all throughout the 1980's.


In today's video section, the excellent Legends of Hockey profile on Gilbert.


Next, ten minutes of footage of the Rangers and the GAG Line taking on the Maple Leafs from the 1970-71 season.

 

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