Friday, January 25, 2008

Leetch symbolizes what a true Ranger is all about

I knew that we were in for a truly special night at Madison Square Garden. If you were priviledged enough to be witness to that special retirement ceremony of all-time Ranger great Brian Leetch's No.2 to the rafters joining the likes of Rod Gilbert (No.7), Ed Giacomin (No.1), Mike Richter (No.35) and Mark Messier (No.11), then you know how unbelievable it really was.

I am not going to go on and on about it because our outstanding blogger Lenny did a very nice job summing up what this classy former defenseman is all about. If you needed proof, just watching how eloquently Leetch spoke about the history of the franchise with Ron Greschner on hand crediting him for how he developed to the recognition of former GM Craig Patrick for having the confidence to draft him to the praise of his teammates and the role the "Ranger Faithful" played in the team achieving their greatest success in winning the Stanley Cup which included a postseason for the ages by No.2 (11-23-34, +19 in 23 GP) in becoming the only American to win the Conn Smythe.

Still, the biggest highlight had to be Brian making the surprise announcement that good buddy and Ranger fan favorite Adam Graves' No.9 will be retired at some point next year for his outstanding work on and off the ice during a 10-year career as a Blueshirt.

On his own special night where legends such as Harry Howell and Brad Park were on hand for the ceremony and banner retirement, here was the franchise leader in so many categories putting himself aside for a teammate honoring and surprising a guy who had no idea what was about to happen.

I said, 'If you want me to do it, I'd love to it,"' the former 11-time All-Star, Calder recipient and two-time Norris winner flashed back to the Associated Press.

"The only thought that came to my mind was how humble I felt," an emotional Graves admitted. "Wearing that jersey was gift enough. Having this opportunity, I'm lucky."

"That kind of made me calm because I knew I had that to come and it was going to be exciting," a sporty Leetch pointed out. "I knew Adam was going to be blown away."

"I was foggy. I had no idea," Graves added. "It caught me off guard and I was like, 'Go back there, it's your night."'

What else would you expect from a player who was drafted in the first round 22 years prior ninth overall out of Boston College who went on to play 1,129 games as a Ranger in 17 career seasons (1988-2004) pacing the Original Six franchise with 741 assists, second to Gilbert in scoring with 981 points. And of course, tops among New York Ranger blueliners in goals (240) and points (981).

If you wanted to know how he felt about the fans, just listening to him mention how he was only on the wrong side of the bench once as a visiting Boston Bruin- then pointing out and thanking those fans for "getting him through the night when he wasn't on the right side."

The place went wild as it did most of this special night. From the loud chants of "Bri----an Leeettccch" to "Leeeettttttttch," "Messs-----ierrr" and "Adaa-----mmm Gravvvvvesss," it was about as perfect as it could get.

Even former Ranger enforcers Tie Domi and Darren Langdon joined the fun presenting him with a Harley Davidson motorcycle featuring a leather jacket and helmet in honor of "Leetch's wild side."

We'll just have to take Ranger emcee and broadcaster Sam Rosen's word for it.

One of the things I also really appreciated was how generous Leetch and the Ranger organization with Richter presenting him with a check for $25,000 to the John J. Murray Foundation for his former close buddy who died tragically during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

Sometimes, it really does make you appreciate what you got. It can be very humbling and that certainly was the case over six years ago remarkably. God bless Murray's family.

"I was not that nervous, not that scared of what I was going to say," Leetch finally said of the great night which New Yorkers will remember for quite some time.
"I was just really enjoying it and I was not sure I was going to be able to do that."

No.2 will always be No.1 in our H-E-A-R-T-S.

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