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Color of Hockey: Hadfield, grandson of Rangers great, proud of roots

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, as part of Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, he profiles Victor Hadfield, a Filipino-Canadian playing for Manitoba of the American Hockey League and the grandson of NHL great Vic Hadfield.

Victor Hadfield said he has a lot of pride in his hockey lineage and cultural heritage.

The 20-year-old rookie forward/defenseman with Manitoba, the Winnipeg Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate, is the grandson of Vic Hadfield, the rugged high-scoring left wing who was part of the New York Rangers’ famous “GAG Line” (Goal-A-Game) with center Jean Ratelle and right wing Rod Gilbert in the 1970s.

“Obviously, it will be pretty hard to live up to my grandpa’s name,” the younger Hadfield said. “He played in the NHL a long time and he had a really good career. So it’s definitely tough, but it’s definitely great to have someone that I’m really close with who played at that level who can share those tips with me.”

The “GAG Line” was the first in NHL history to have each of the three players score at least 40 goals in the same season, and Vic Hadfield was the first Rangers player to score 50 goals in a season, with 106 points (50 goals, 56 assists) in 1971-72.

The elder Hadfield scored 712 points (323 goals, 389 assists) with 1,159 penalty minutes in 1,004 games through 16 NHL seasons with the Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins from 1961-77.

Victor Hadfield is scoreless in three AHL games since his debut on March 8; he signed a tryout agreement with Manitoba on Feb. 5.

He said he has a lot to learn as a pro, but he did pick up a lesson early in his hockey career: What it means to be a role model. 

Victor Hadfield is of Filipino heritage — his mother, Patricia, was born in the Southeast Asia country comprised of more than 7,600 islands. When he played for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, he met youngsters of Asian descent who told him he was an inspiration for them.

“Up in Barrie we do a lot of community events and just having those kids look up to me and say, ‘We found out you’re Filipino, we found out you’re Asian,’ and it kind of gives them motivation,” Victor Hadfield said. “In hockey, there are not a lot of Asian players and it’s kind of nice when you can relate to someone who comes from the same background as you.

“For me growing up, I always looked up to older players, NHL players, OHL players, they were like celebrities pretty much. Having those kids kind of say that they look up to me, it’s a funny feeling but it’s pretty awesome.”

Victor Hadfield still idolizes his grandpa. The two say they talk by phone almost daily, even if it’s for a few minutes. The elder Hadfield, 80, said he rarely discusses hockey specifics with his grandson during the chats.

“I just want to make sure that he’s fine and that this is what he wants to do,” Vic Hadfield said. “If it is, do it with hard work. If you want to work at it, it’s there. Just prepare yourself for the opportunity that one day you’re going to be called upon, and you’re going to be ready.”

Victor Hadfield said one of his proudest moments was being on the ice at Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers retire his grandfather’s No. 11 jersey and raise it to arena’s rafters on Dec. 2, 2018.

“It was probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” the younger Hadfield said. “Obviously for him, he’s been waiting a little while for that to happen — both his linemates are up there. He was pretty emotional watching it go up there. I was definitely a little emotional. We share the same last name, so kind of seeing my name up there gave me a little motivation, gave me a little boost.” 

Vic Hadfield said his proudest moment was seeing his namesake reach the professional ranks.

“That’s not a hard one,” he said when asked to compare the emotions of having his number retired and his grandson turn professional. “Seeing him being able to accomplish what he set out to do when he was told he was too small — he’s going to be a good pro, he’ll be a good NHLer.”

Victor Hadfield began playing hockey as a 4-year-old, but he was often told while growing up that he would never make it professionally because of his size, the elder Hadfield said.

“He took that as motivation just to prove everybody wrong,” Vic Hadfield said. “Now he’s (6-foot, 179 pounds) and he works out … he doesn’t stop. He’s in the gym, on the ice, he was taking boxing lessons.”

The younger Hadfield was a smooth-skating defenseman in minor hockey, but was bypassed in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection draft in 2016.

He made history the following year when Barrie chose him as the No. 1 pick in the inaugural OHL Under-18 Priority Selection draft from junior AAA Hamilton.

He scored 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in 124 games with Barrie from 2017-20. Twenty-six of his points (eight goals, 18 assists) were scored primarily as a left wing in his final season with Barrie in 2019-20.

Now Victor Hadfield is in Winnipeg, almost 1,300 miles from his Oakville, Ontario home, learning to be a pro during a pandemic. He misses his family, his mother’s Chicken Adobo, and other Filipino dishes.

But he knows that grandpa is always just a phone call away.

Photos: Jeff Hadfield/Jonathan Kozub, Manitoba Moose/MSG Photo Service

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