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January 06, 2013

Gentleman Jean Ratelle

Jean Ratelle is about as perfect a hockey player as there as we have ever seen. His professionalism and sportsmanship are as rare as his elite puck handling and skating skills.

While his road to the NHL wasn't the smoothest, but once he got there he quickly established himself as smooth operator. He split the first four pro seasons between the New York Rangers and the minor leagues. At one point while enduring a contract dispute he almost quit hockey to try out with the Milwaukee Braves baseball team.

"Management in New York put a lot of pressure on me. They wanted me to play a more aggressive brand of hockey. But that just wasn't the way I played the game. So pretty soon I found myself down in the minors again."

Ratelle finally got his chance to stay in 1964-65 when an injury to Phil Goyette allowed Ratelle the opportunity he needed. Immediately he was reunited with childhood friend and junior teammate Rod Gilbert. Ratelle scored 21 times and had finally proved he was an NHLer to stay.

Ratelle - a lanky centermen from Quebec - instantly was compared to Jean Beliveau. But he was quick to dismiss that notion.

"A lot of people saw my style as similar to Jean Beliveau's" Jean said in the book Heroes & History. "He was one of my heroes, but everyone is an individual. I don't think you can really copy anyone even if you try. You might pick up a little mannerism when you're a kid, but I didn't do that."

In another book, Rangers Fever by Marv Albert, Jean said "In a sense I was flattered. But I was realistic about it and I knew that part of the reason was for publicity. I never patterned my style after Beliveau's. So I as far as I was concerned, any comparisons were just to give the publicists something to do."

Beliveau however did acknowledge that their playing styles were very similar.

"Sure our styles are similar. We both play very cleanly, we're pretty quiet fellows, and we both have a long skating stride and a long reach," he said.

"The way I see it, Jean Ratelle is the quiet leader of the Rangers. It's a mistake to think that a player has to be noisy in order to command respect and lead a hockey club. Jean inspires by his behaviour - on and off the ice. He's a fine family man and an inspiration to the other players, especially the younger ones. He reminds me of my self in the sense that neither of us were flashy or noisy or were quoted saying anything controversial, and because of that it took longer to get recognized."

Read The Full Jean Ratelle Biography

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