Leetch's Number Retired; Graves Next
How fitting was it that the New York Rangers won a thrilling overtime game on the same evening that Brian Leetch's number two was raised to the Madison Square Garden rafters. The former Blueshirts' captain had his moment and will be followed next season by Adam Graves, who were teammates on the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team.
In the Rangers long and illustrious history, there have been only four previous numbers retired (Mark Messier, Mike Richter, Ed Giacomin and Rod Gilbert). During the ceremony on Thursday evening, the fans packed the arena 90 minutes before face-off to honor Leetch, and the formal announcement that Graves' number nine would be the sixth retired by the organization was an added surprise.
"Adam Graves is quite simply one of the most beloved players to ever don a New York Rangers sweater," said general manager Glen Sather. "Off the ice, there is quite simply no finer person. His effort and production as a hockey player was nothing short of triumphant and, even today, his dedication to the community is incomparable."
Graves should expect a similar reaction from the fans, who gave Leetch a long standing ovation while chanting his name over and over. Sam Rosen, the great play-by-play announcer for the team, introduced the defenseman, who said, "This is an amazing event, and I thank everyone for being a part of this. I am honored to be here tonight."
One of the most popular players of this era, Leetch won the Calder Trophy for his Rookie of the Year performance (1988-89), the Norris Trophy (1991-92 and 1996-97) and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the 1994 playoffs. That is in addition to the Stanley Cup that same year.
Many of Leetch's friends and former teammates were in attendance, including Graves. Mark Messier, who was also a former Rangers captain, called Leetch the "greatest Ranger ever," was also part of the ceremony, as were Brian Mullen, Ron Greschner and Jeff Beukeboom.
Even with his number retired, it is difficult to state how much Leetch meant to the Rangers. A former first round selection (ninth overall) in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, the Corpus Christi, Texas native scored 23 goals and had 48 assists in his first full season on Broadway. He spent 17 seasons in New York and was instrumental in the postseason. Leetch scored 11 goals and had 23 assists in the 1993-94 playoffs, as well as a +19.
Once Leetch left the Rangers he played one season each in Toronto and Boston before contemplating a return to New York, which did not culminate. Shortly thereafter, he announced his official retirement and it was only a matter of time before he would be honored in the arena that he once ruled.
For his career, Leetch scored 247 goals, had 781 assists (1,028 points) and a +25. That includes 111 power play goals and 38 game-winners.
His parting remark during the ceremony summed it all up when Leetch reflected on his only game at the Garden as a visiting player.
"You made sure you knew I was home, and I thank you for that," Leetch said.
Brian, the thanks are all yours.