When Brian Leetch was gracing the Madison Square Garden ice with his presence on a nightly basis, perhaps his most impressive attribute was his ability to counterattack, gaining possession of the puck and leading an odd-man rush in the opposite direction.
And last night, while he was delivering the keynote speech on the night when his #2 was raised to the rafters for perpetuity, Leetch did it again. Deflecting the attention being lavished on him, Leetch took the opportunity to announce mid-speech that beloved teammate Adam Graves would be receiving the same honor during the 2008-09 season.
“I’ve also been given tonight a great opportunity, I’m very honored to represent the Rangers in making an announcement,” Leetch said. “Adam Graves, in honor and recognition of your ten-year career in New York and your many achievements, not only on the ice but also for your amazing work off the ice and in the community, the New York Rangers are privileged to announce that Adam Graves will join this distinguished group of Rangers when his #9 is raised to the rafters.”
Mark Messier was, of course, the face of the Rangers’ organization during their stirring run to the Stanley Cup in 1994. But as Messier would be the first to say, that victory was a full-team effort, with fellow horsemen Leetch and Graves playing an integral role.
Leetch had the greatest career on Broadway of any hockey player to pull on the Rangers’ sweater. He might well be the finest American-born NHLer as well, and is a lock to reach the Hall of Fame. And he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1994, his performance from the Rangers’ blue line one of the finest in NHL playoff history.
And Graves, as much as anyone the glue that held that 1994 team together, was absolutely critical to the Cup run. That season, he set a then-Rangers record by scoring 52 goals, and most weren’t of the pretty variety. He consistently battled his way through traffic in order to give both Messier and Leetch more time to operate, and his efforts never went unnoticed by his more heralded teammates.
By sharing his night with Graves, Leetch demonstrated once again just what made that 1994 team so special. It truly was an “all for one, one for all” environment, and that, as much as the ending of 54 years of frustration and agony, was what enabled the Rangers’ diehard fans to attach themselves to the roster like never before.
Last night, the atmosphere in the Garden was electric. And by making one more brilliant “outlet pass,” Leetch found an opening and gave the fans another great tribute to anticipate and cherish. His skating skills and stickhandling were surely brilliant, but it was Leetch’s on-ice vision that set him apart. And with last night’s pass to Graves, he might just have outdone himself.