Retro Rangers: Remembering Vic Hadfield

“Metamorphosis” is a word that is often used to characterize Vic Hadfield’s hockey career. How else would you describe a guy who started out as an awkward skating tough guy and through a lot of hard work and determination became an All-Star, a 50-goal scorer and Captain of the New York Rangers?

Victor Edward Hadfield was born on October 4th, 1940 in Oakville, Ontario,

His hockey journey began in 1958 with the St. Catherines Tee Pees of the OHA (Junior A) where he accumulated 73 points and 202 penalty minutes over two seasons. The Tee Pees were sponsored by the Chicago Black Hawks and won the 1960 Memorial Cup with a line up that included many future NHL’ers like Roger Crozier, Pat Stapleton, Ray Cullen, John Brenneman, Murray Hall, Doug Robinson and Chico Maki.

Hadfield turned pro with the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL in 1960, once again collecting more penalty minutes (111) than points (21). He was claimed by the Rangers in the 1961 Intra-League draft and immediately made an impression with his toughness and aggressive play. The Blueshirts of that era were a skilled but small team that needed an element of size and toughness, two things that Hadfield (6-foot, 185-pounds) possessed in abundance.

In Hadfield’s first full season with the Rangers in 1963-64, he led the NHL with 151 penalty minutes while chipping in with 14 goals and 11 assists. Over the next two seasons he became more of a complete player, increasing his point totals while still racking up over 100 penalty minutes each year.

During his early years with the Rangers Vic was involved in two memorable episodes in Blueshirt history.

On the evening of March 9th, 1963 in Montreal, Vic chased a loose puck into the corner of the ice. Canadien defenseman Lou Fontinato raced over to check Vic but appeared to stumble, crashing head first into the boards and suffering a broken neck. Fontinato recovered but his NHL career was over.

Then on the night of November 21st, 1965 at Madison Square Garden, Ranger coach Emile Francis left the bench and ran through the stands to argue with goal judge Arthur Reichert over a Red Wing goal by Norm Ullman. When a number of fans started accosting Francis, who they didn’t recognize, Hadfield led a group of his teammates over the plexiglass and into the stands to rescue their coach.

Early in the 1968-69 season Camille Henry was playing on a line with Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert but the trio was getting roughed up game in and game out. Finally after an especially tough night in Toronto, Francis had seen enough and he inserted Vic into Henry’s spot on the left wing with specific instructions.

“If anyone bothers Ratelle or Gilbert, beat the (bleep) out of them,” Francis told Hadfield.

Not only did Vic protect his linemates but surprisingly picked up his offensive production as well. Because of his aggressive reputation, he was given a little more room to maneuver by opponents who may not have wanted to be greeted by an elbow or a stick. Hadfield also worked on his skating and possessed a quick, accurate slap shot that was aided by the new curved stick blade that was introduced to him by his friend Bobby Hull.

The line clicked and soon became known as the Goal-A-Game (G-A-G) line and in 1971-72 Hadfield became the first Rangers to score 50 goals in a season, a record that stood until Adam Graves scored 52 goals in 1994.

“People thought I was a genius for putting Vic on that line,” said Francis. “But all I wanted to do was protect my two best players.”

It was a great year over all for Hadfield who was named Rangers captain at the beginning of the season after Bob Nevin was traded to Minnesota for Bobby Rousseau. He was also named to the NHL All Star team and asked to participate in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately the experience didn’t turn out as well as Vic might have hoped. He was used sparingly during the first half of the series in North America and after traveling to Moscow with the team learned that he probably would not be used in any of the remaining games in Russia.

Understandably upset by the news, Vic quickly packed his bags and caught the next flight home. Canadians scorned him for his actions, but Vic, always a no-nonsense kind of guy did what he thought was best for his family, himself and the Rangers.

Despite his success as a member of the G-A-G line, Vic never lost sight of his responsibility to protect his smaller teammates. He is often remembered for his epic battles with Montreal’s Henri “The Pocket Rocket” Richard and for his role in a wild melee during the 1971 playoffs in which he flipped Bernie Parent’s facemask into the crowd, leaving the Toronto netminder wandering around the ice searching for his mask while it was being passed around the Garden.

Off the ice Vic was a dedicated prankster. He liked to switch the cups that held the players false teeth from locker to locker. So the cry of “Hey Vic! Where’s my teeth (or tie, or shoes)?” was often heard in the Rangers locker room following a game or practice. He also was known to nail teammate’s shoes to the floor or slather the inside of them with Vaseline.

Slowed by a series of injuries, Hadfield was traded to the Penguins for defenseman Nick Beverley following the 1973-74 season and notched 61 goals and 77 assist in two seasons with Pittsburgh before retiring in 1976.

Hadfield made himself a better hockey player and took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves along the way.  In 839 games with the Rangers Vic scored 262 goals and added 310 assists along with 1,036 penalty minutes. His point total ranks him in ninth place on the Rangers All-Time scoring list and he is also fifth on the Blueshirts’ All-Time penalty minutes list.  He still holds the Rangers record for assists (56) and points (106) by a left wing in a single season (1971-72). In 61 playoff games he scored 22 goals with 19 assists and 106 penalty minutes. Overall in 1002 NHL games, he scored 323 goals with 389 assists with 1154 penalty minutes.

Today, Vic owns and manages the Vic Hadfield Golf and Learning Center In Oakville Ontario and is active with the Rangers Alumni Association. But he is most proud of his work with the Daniella Maria Arturi Foundation to increase awareness and support research in Diamond Blackfan Anemia, a rare childhood disorder resulting from the failure of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells.

Vic became involved when Manny Arturi, a business associate lost a seven-month-old daughter to the disease in 1996 and has helped raise almost $2 million for the fund. “The best part is watching Vic watch slides and presentations about molecular biology” said Marie Arturi, who smile when she talks about her daughter Daniella. “Here’s a former star athlete who gives and gives and gives.”

During their ordeal Marie and Manny Arturi were shocked to discover how little was known about DBA; how little research was being conducted and how few physicians were aware of it and thus how little was known about clinical care related to it. But the medical community has now taken notice as the American Society of Hematology has become involved. Clinical Care Centers have been created and $37 million overall has been raised for DBA research.  “It’s really an honor to be involved” said the understated Hadfield.

The world needs more quiet heroes like Vic Hadfield.

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