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Graves recalls his greatest night

Monday, 02.02.2009 / 10:36 AM / History
As Adam Graves prepares to have the No. 9 he wore with the Rangers raised to the rafters at Madison Square Garden, New York hockey fans know they're saluting someone who was a champion on the ice and off. Graves was a player who would do whatever needed to be done to win, and do it to the best of his ability. Yes as good as he was as a player, Graves was (and is) an even better human being, whose efforts for others are unsurpassed.

Graves was a highly regarded talent when he joined the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. NHL scouts started buzzing around in Graves' first season in junior hockey, when he put up 64 points in 62 games. The Detroit Red Wings made Graves the first pick in the second round, 22nd overall, in the 1986 Entry Draft.

Graves' second season in junior hockey was even better. He piled up 45 goals and 55 assists for 100 points while playing the top-rated junior team in Canada, though the Spitfires were upset by Medicine Hat in the finals of the Memorial Cup.

Graves returned to juniors in 1987-88, piling up 60 points in 37 games while working around a trip to the World Junior Championship and his first exposure to the NHL -- nine games with the Wings, in which he had one assist.

After getting 7 goals and 12 points in 60 games for Detroit in 1988-89, Graces was dealt to Edmonton that summer as part of the package that brought hometown native Jimmy Carson back to the Motor City. It turned out to be a great move for Graves, who was paired with former Detroit teammate Joe Murphy and Martin Gelinas on the "Kid Line," a high-energy trio that gave the Oilers a lift. Graves finished the regular season with 21 points in 63 games with Edmonton, then added five goals and 11 points in 22 playoff games as the Oilers won their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years.

"Winning the Cup in Edmonton and having the opportunity for my mom and dad, and my dad in particular, to drink out of the Stanley Cup in the dressing room at the Boston Garden, was special," Graves said. "Standing on the bench with 10 seconds to go, we're up 4-1, and thinking to myself, 'it can't be true, it can't be true, I'm going to win the Stanley Cup. It was outstanding."

Graves went 7-18-25 with the Oilers in 1990-91, then signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent. It was the biggest move of his career.

"The two years that I spent in Edmonton were outstanding and the friendships you make along the way are as big a part of it as the on-ice factor," Graves said of his time with the Oilers. "Then to come to New York and get the opportunity to play and be in a position to score what in hockey is a milestone goal is certainly a privilege."

With the Rangers, Graves found himself in a new role: two-way power forward, usually on the left side of Mark Messier, who came to New York not long after Graves. The move worked better than the Rangers or their fans could have dreamed: Graves had more goals in his first season in the Big Apple (26) than he'd had points the previous season.

"My first couple of years in Detroit and Edmonton were building years," Graves says. "When I came to New York, I got to play more on the power play and started to play more -- and like anything else, once you get an opportunity and you're fortunate enough to be surrounded by great players, which I was, you get into a groove and find out where you have to be on the ice. Experience is a great teacher, and when you have a team like we did, and the players that I got to play with, confidence comes from the other players as well."

The Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy in 1991-92, but were ousted in the Patrick Division finals by the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The team fell out of the playoffs in 1992-93, but not because of Graves, who improved to 36 goals and 62 points.

The Rangers regrouped, hiring Mike Keenan as coach, deciding that Mick Richter was their No. 1 starting goaltender after losing John Vanbiesbrouck in the expansion draft, and adding players like Glenn Healy and Steve Larmer.

The Blueshirts started fast and kept going. One reason was the play of Graves, who piled up goals at a pace no Ranger left wing had managed since Vic Hadfield set the team record of 50 in 1971-72. Graves didn't have Hadfield's big slap shot, but he did have the same willingness to pay the price in front of the net. He outbattled defenders to convert rebounds and get himself open for quick wrist shots from the slot. Graves also stuck up for his teammates, keeping opponents from taking liberties with players like Messier and Brian Leetch without spending too much time in the penalty box. That kind of effort made Graves a favorite among Madison Square Garden fans.

The goals kept piling up for Graves. He passed his personal high of 36 and kept going -- past 40, past 45, and up to 49 -- the number he took to the Northlands Coliseum when the Rangers made their annual visit to Graves' former home on March 23, 1994.

It was a night he'll never forget.

 
"I couldn't say I exactly what I was thinking," Graves said of going onto the ice with the chance to score No. 50. "My whole premise, the way I played and approached everything, was just to focus on the meat and potatoes parts of the game -- going into the corners, getting to the net on every play, playing strong along the boards, putting yourself in a position to get loose pucks. The game has changed completely now, but back then, my whole game was in front of the net. You knew that when you got into a game that you had to battle. Many times it was a war zone in front of the net. It was something that I had a passion for. I loved battling and I loved getting in front of the net. You really had to battle for your ice and get position.
 
"My whole mindset was 'that was my ice, and I wanted that ice.' Because of playing with the guys I was fortunate enough to play with, I knew that if I got to the front of the net and fought, battled for that ice, that I would have opportunities. I wasn't the type of player that was going to grab the puck, like Brian Leetch, and skate from end to end. That wasn't my skill set -- mine was trying to be strong, doing the simple things, the basic parts of the game, and doing them with strength and tenacity and battling. That's something I enjoyed. The front of the net was something that I had a great deal of passion for, but I knew I had to get there on every play -- get there, get in position and locate loose pucks.

"The 50th goal (at 14:32 of the first period) came off a turnover. Glenn Anderson threw it over to Mess and we came in 2-on-1. Mess put the pass across the slot, and I was fortunate enough to one-time it past Billy Ranford. That was kind of ironic because Billy and I had been good friends for a long time. We won a Cup together in Edmonton, and he was a great goalie in his time. I think that was a special opportunity to score your 50th on someone you have such a great deal of respect for. It was a big thrill, and it was fitting that Mark passed me the puck.

"The 51st came off a point shot, I believe. I got to the front of the net and knocked the puck past Billy (at 17:26 of the opening period). I could see everyone was kind of looking around, and [the puck] got caught in my skates and I kind of hacked it in.

"I can't say that I've watched it [the goal] a lot. But that's the great part of the game -- the memories. You kind of remember those key moments where you don't have to watch a tape or a DVD to recapture and remember how it went in and how you felt. I said after the goal that because of the way I played and the fortune of playing with the teammates I played with, that scoring the 50th goal was as much a team achievement as much as it was my achievement."


Graves, battling a sore back, finished the season with 52 goals, a team record that stood until Jaromir Jagr broke it on April 8, 2006. Despite a sore back, Graves kept filling the net during the playoffs. The biggest of his 10 postseason goals was the last one -- a typical Graves conversion from right in front that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead late in the first period of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks. The Rangers won the game 3-2, triggering a celebration the likes of which New York hockey fans had never seen.

"To win it in New York, after 54 years, there's absolutely not a better place, not a more appreciative place -- and I'll say it for as long as anyone will listen -- the red, white and blue runs deep in my body," Graves says. "That was a special, special time, and it's something I'll cherish forever. It was a privilege to be part of it. It wasn't just our team. It was everyone's team. It was the city's team, and everyone felt a part of it. I think everyone knew at that time where they were when the team won -- what they were doing, what they were wearing. That's what made it so special, especially after 54 years. That whole factor united Rangers fans everywhere. Everyone felt like it was 'our' team."

"To win it in New York, after 54 years, there's absolutely not a better place, not a more appreciative place -- and I'll say it for as long as anyone will listen -- the red, white and blue runs deep in my body."
-- Adam Graves

Graves' off-ice work also was recognized in 1994, when he was awarded the King Clancy Trophy for his charitable and humanitarian efforts.

Graves never came close to scoring 50 goals again, but he was a solid contributor through the rest of the decade, twice breaking the 30-goal mark while still providing toughness and leadership. His biggest goal came in Game 5 of the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals, when he scored in overtime to eliminate New Jersey and send the Rangers to the conference finals.

His leadership on and off the ice were recognized in 2001, when Graves was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy. But not long after, he found himself in San Jose.

"It was tough, but I'm a realist," he said of being traded. "You have to be humble enough and smart enough to know that there's a beginning and an end to everything. The glass with me is always half-full. That's the way I look at things. I was very fortunate to have had the chance to play an entire decade in a city that I absolutely adored, and to play for a team that will eternally be my team. I was very lucky."

Graves played two seasons with the Sharks before stepping aside as a player. The Rangers wasted little time bringing him back to New York. He's in hockey and business operations for the Rangers and makes numerous personal appearances.

For Rangers fans, though, he'll always be "Gravy," part of a special team -- one that will always be special to him.

Excerpted from "Game of My Life: New York Rangers" By John Kreiser and John Halligan



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