Touched. Humbled. Privileged. Honored. Overwhelmed. Did I say humbled?
"My heart is still racing," Graves said.
It was probably 20 minutes after he left the ice. We all were down on the fifth floor of the Garden, ice level, in an area called the Expo Center.
"I don't know what the right words are, but my heart is pounding out of my chest. Can you tell?" Graves said.
Always the consummate teammate, Graves said it was his hope to go off the ice with his former teammates Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch. However, it was Messier who made Graves stay on the ice to absorb the final applause from one of the most adoring and appreciative crowds I have ever seen.
"Mess is Mess," Graves said. "He gets greater joy out of other people's success than his own. That's just the type of guy he is. That's Mark."
Graves was asked if he could pick out a moment or two from the ceremony that will resonate forever. At first, he couldn't.
"So many moments," he said. "From just standing...no, walking out and seeing all the kids and in particular Nick (Springer) and Steven (Swarztrauber). "
Springer is a kid who Graves befriended while he was battling a serious virus. Graves met Swarztrauber through the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
"Then to get on the Garden ice, it was very tough. I don't know if I'm using the right word there, but it was very difficult. In my heart and in my mind it was overwhelming in a lot of ways."
Even so, Graves said one of the top moments of the ceremony occurred as his number was going up.
"Standing with my son, the tears coming down his face, I said, 'It's OK, buddy,' " Graves said. "He said, 'Dad, I'm crying because I'm happy.' That, in particular, will always resonate with me."
Having the cast of the HBO hit show, The Sopranos, was also another overwhelming and humbling moment for Graves.
"Especially for me," he said with a quizzical look on his face. "What are they doing here? It's only Adam Graves. To have them take time out of their schedules to honor me is very special. That's what I told them all on the ice. I thanked them all for taking the time to come here for me. That, of course, was outstanding."
Graves went on to list more of the special moments, such as receiving the signed Bruce Springsteen guitar. Graves said he used to listen to Bruce songs over and over and over again in the summers when he was training. He mentioned how special it was to have Messier speak on his behalf and to be honored by Steven McDonald, the NYPD detective injured in the line of duty.
McDonald is a hero to the people of New York, especially those in the Rangers' community. He was shot on July 12, 1986. The injuries from the incident left him a quadriplegic On his Wikipedia page, it says he is the most seriously injured NYPD officer to survive his injuries.
Following the 1987-88 season, the Rangers established the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in his honor. Every year, McDonald presents the trophy and a $25,000 check in the player's name made out to the Steven McDonald Foundation. Graves won the trophy five times during his 10-year career with the Rangers. No other player has won it more than twice.
Graves said he thought of his father, Robert, and what the old-school cop from Toronto would have said to him.
"He would just say, 'Son, I'm proud of you,' and he'd do it with a smile and a hug," Graves said, adding that as he watched the banner go up he thought of all those days his father spent with him in the driveway with a baseball glove on catching pucks.
Graves stressed that he understands how lucky he was to be a part of the Rangers' 1994 team, to play with Richter and Leetch and Messier and all the rest.
"I get it," he said. "And for me to be honored amongst them, it's humbling." 7:34 p.m. ET
Graves is off the podium now, ending his speech by saying, "Being a Ranger and playing here was way more than enough. Tonight's honor is simply overwhelming, and I thank you."
He's going down the line and shaking hands with everyone standing with him at center ice.
Sam Rosen is back on. Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund, the captain and alternates, brought out the No. 9 banner for it to be raised to the rafters, to Ranger immortality, as Rosen said.
They're skating out together and attaching it to the strings that will raise it up. The banner is unfurling in their hands and the flash bulbs going off here are blinding. It's quite a moment, surreal in fact.
As the banner goes up and the flashes continue to blind the Garden, Graves is shown on the big screen crying. He's holding his hand over his eyes, wiping away the tears. His wife, Violet, is patting him on the back. The banner stops halfway up for pictures and then continues. Graves is now holding his son Logan and looking up together. He's all out balling right now. The entire family is watching the No. 9 go up together.
As the Graves clan turns around to walk down the red carpet toward center ice, the honoree quickly turns around to give his banner one last glance.
He's at the center ice circle now and Leetch has presented him with his blue Rangers' jersey. He is standing between Richter and Leetch with Messier and Giacomin and Gilbert. The Stanley Cup is in front of them. All of the members of the fraternity of retired jerseys are standing together for the first time.
Finally, the four heroes of the 1994 Stanley Cup championship are standing together for a picture.
Messier, Richter and Leetch have now left the ice, leaving Graves to stand at center ice alone, the spotlight shining down brightly on him.
When you're an athlete in New York the spotlight is always shining on you, but nobody has handled it better than Graves. He is standing there, patting his hand to his heart and applauding the fans. He is, yet again, applauding them. Friends forever these two, Adam Graves and the Garden faithful.
As he left the ice, he shook the hands of fans leaning over the railing and walked into the dark tunnel.
A special man leaving his special night. A special man who will never be forgotten in this building.
7:23 p.m. ET
The thank yous are still going on. I think this guy could stand up there and thank everyone in this building, one by one. If there wasn't a hockey game to be played in less than an hour, I bet you that he would.
Save for me, who is sitting and typing, everyone is still standing in this building. They are hanging on Graves' every word as he thanked all of his teammates in attendance tonight. I bet you he'll have some special words for Andy Bathgate, who also wore No. 9 for the Rangers long before Graves did. Bathgate will have his No. 9 retired Feb. 22.
Graves is making it a point not to leave anyone out. He said he was "awed" to share this honor with guys like Gilbert, Giacomin, Bathgate and Harry Howell.
Here it comes:
"I especially want to thank Mr. Bathgate. Forever sharing No. 9 with you high above the ice means everything to me."
"That weight is getting heavier by the second," he continued.
The next in the line of thank yous was the current Rangers team. Graves said how much he admired them and coach Tom Renney and his staff. A "Let's Go Rangers" chant broke out. "Hank, Dru, Gomer and all of you wearing this sweater are what our proud Original Six franchise is all about. I am humbled to share the tradition of the Blueshirts with you," Graves said.
"To the amazing die-hard fans of the New York Rangers, I am truly honored to know I made a difference in your lives. You all need to know you have made a HUGE difference in mine."
"That 1994 Stanley Cup banner, forever erasing Niiiine-teeeeeeen-fooorrty...I am sure I speak for all my teammates here tonight and all who have worn this sweater since 1926 when I say thank you."
Finally, he applauded his wife and kids.
"My success is your success. My moment here tonight is your moment. You are everything to me."
7:15 p.m. ET
He mentioned Oct. 7, 1991, when he stood on the blue line with Richter and Leetch and welcomed Messier, "our captain. I knew that day how fortunate I was and my success would be a byproduct of theirs. That special trio simplified the game for me to the point where all I had to do was work hard."
He mentioned looking up to the rafters and finding trouble imagining his name amongst theirs. He said he pinches himself everyday and asks himself, "How did I get here? The only answer I can come up with is I just try to keep it simple and work as hard as I could."
Graves is now talking about his family, his sisters, mother Lynda and father, Robert, who was his hero in life, his idol. He said he watched his father put on his police uniform with pride everyday, and that's how he felt putting on the Rangers' jersey.
"All I can say is thank you," he said. "Your enthusiasm has always been there and for that, I'm eternally grateful."
The crowd went into another "Gravy, Gravy, Gravy" chant.
"Thank you for allowing me to become part of your lives in this inspiring city. In particular, I want to thank all the great kids I have been lucky enough to befriend. The best part is, we have all done it together."
He thanked all the beat writers. He thanked John Davidson, J.D. who is in the house. He thanked all the broadcasters.
Seriously, can we clone this guy?
Graves said he thought of paralympian Nick Springer, officer Steven McDonald (a man I'm privileged to call my friend"). He thanked Neil Smith and Colin Campbell for the privilege of giving him a chance to play for the Rangers in 1991.
"You deserve all this Gravy," a fan screamed out.
7:10 p.m ET
Graves is standing at the podium now, but the crowd won't let him talk.
"Gravy, Gravy, Gravy, Gravy." The chant goes on and on. They are loud.
And, finally he's allowed to talk and the entire building went silent. It was a little weird how quiet it got. That's the kind of respect Graves commands.
He began by saying how touched he is to follow Messier.
"For all of us up here, it was easy to follow this man and have him speak on my behalf tonight means more than I can say in words."
"Since last year when Brian was so kind enough to talk time out of his night I felt a great weight fall onto my shoulders and that weight has only increased over the last year. Over the last few months, I wrote some things down because I wanted to make sure that I sent the right message and let everyone know exactly how I was feeling.
"So, if you bare with me, I did put some words together here."
At that moment, the crowd cheered again.
"I stand before you humbled and incredibly appreciative because I am truly blessed. Blessed to have the talent worthy of the NHL and blessed to have 10 years to share that ability with the people of New York, especially the true blue fans who fill the Garden night in and night out."
He talked about never imagining this kind of night when he shot pucks at his dad, high glove side, on the streets of North York. He said over the last 18 years he has been touched to discover so much greatness about the heartbeat of New York, "especially the people in this building."
He called Madison Square Garden the place where "he grew up from a long-haired 23-year-old to a proud husband of three amazing children." He said he felt that the Garden was always home, "so much so that right now I feel that 18,200 of my closest friends are right here in my living room."
No crying yet. This guy is composed. Very nice, Gravy.
7:03 p.m. ET
Messier is at the podium now.
"Wow, that is a tough act to follow," No. 11 began.
Yeah, seriously. Shall I stress again, the cast of The Sopranos is on the ice. I'm a little starstruck. Sorry.
"Tonight is not about honoring Adam's stats," Messier said. "Tonight is about honoring a great man and a champion."
"Adam is an honorable man, a champion with real character," he continued.
Right then, a fan sitting up in the famed blue seats screamed out, "We want the Cup." It was one of those times in a ceremony where everything went quiet and I think the entire arena could hear this guy. It was pretty funny.
"We all know many nights when the cameras were off and the people left the building, Adam would still be here talking to people, helping to teach or nurture someone long after the lights went down," Messier said.
"Adam delivered much more than the Stanley Cup," he continued. "Adam gave the Rangers credibility, honor and integrity."
He tried to continue, but you all know Mess by now. He started to lose it. Fans started laughing and cheering. One sitting behind me said, "Where is a tissue." Graves was even laughing. I'm surprised it took Messier this long to start crying. Hey, it took 30 seconds at his Hall of Fame induction speech.
Messier is trying to make it through this speech now. As funny as it is, you have to admire this guy for his emotions. He knows when the moment is special.
"Ladies and gentleman, will you please stand and salute Adam Graves," he concluded.
6:57 p.m. ET
Steven, Patti and Conor McDonald were introduced to the crowd. Graves won the Steven McDonald Award five times during his career. The award is presented in honor of Steven McDonald, who was injured in the line of duty. The McDonald's presented Graves an honorary New York Policeman's badge and it is inscribed in Graves' father's name.
Apparently, Graves is a big fan of The Sopranos, so to surprise him, the cast of the show was introduced. Yes, THE CAST!
OK, if this wasn't cool already, it just got amazing. The cast presented Adam with some unique memorabilia from the show, including a DVD collection of the entire series, a framed family portrait and a one of a kind Sopranos hockey jersey signed by the entire cast.
Seriously, I wish I was on the ice now. I mean, come on. You gotta respect this. Even Devils' fans have to respect this. Even Islanders' fans have to respect this.
Graves was clearly touched. So many people stood around him at center ice and he was in shock. The Rangers, by the way, are all on their bench, standing.
6:54 p.m. ET
And, now the gifts.
Rangers fans submitted photos online to build a 4 foot by 6 foot mosaic feating 2009 unique images from Graves' Rangers career. Two season ticket subscribers, Joe Fiore and Maureen Wolohan, presented Graves with the gift. It's poster sized and it has Graves name and number on it. Graves looked touched.
Personally, I think it's only fitting that the fans gave Graves a gift. He has given them so much.
The next gift came from the Garden of Dreams, MSG's very important charity. They established the Garden of Dreams Hero Award, which will given out annually to individuals who bring the Garden of Dreams' initiative to life. Mark Bajandas and Chris McCabe, who was in a wheelchair, presented Graves with the award along with a $20,000 donation to the Garden of Dreams Foundation on Graves' behalf. He's the inaugural winner.
For as long as Graves lives, nobody else should receive that award.
Finally, his former teammates presented Graves a signed Fender guitar from Adam's favorite musician, "The Boss." Yup, that boss. Bruce Springsteen. Richter, Messier and Leetch presented the guitar to Graves and the song, "Jungleland," was played. The song begins with the words, "The Rangers had a homecoming."
6:50 p.m. ET
With Graves at center ice, Sam Rosen (no relation mind you, though my father's name is Sam) began introducing all of his former teammates. They were all wearing their own jerseys with No. 9 stitched into the corner.
Mike Gartner. Tie Domi. Darren Langdon. Glenn Healy. Sergei Nemchinov.
The list goes on.
Stephane Matteau, who Rosen introduced by saying, "He needs no other introduction that Matteau, Matteau, Matteau." Next came Jeff Beukeboom, Brian Leetch's D-partner. He came out to a roar of "Boooooooooooooooooooooook."
Next came two legends, Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell. They will join Graves up on the honored ceiling on Feb. 22 when their names and numbers go up.
Finally, the honored members of the Rangers' retired jersey fraternity were welcomed.
First Rod Gilbert. Next Eddie Giacomin, who came out to a chant of "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie, Eddie." Here comes No. 35, Mike Richter. I have heard this building loud in the playoffs. It's getting to that decibal now. Just wait...
"He played 16 seasons for the Blueshirts..." Rosen said. Any Ranger fan knows who it is. It's Brian Leetch, No. 2, "one of the greatest defenseman in NHL history," Rosen said.
Yes, No. 11 is on his way. The captain came out to an even louder roar, the loudest of the night save for the one Graves got.
The Rangers' are on the ice. I don't think the Atlanta Thrashers want to play these guys.
Now his wife, Violet, and three children Madison, Montana and Logan have walked the carpet to center ice as well.
6:43 p.m. ET
The event began with Sam Rosen's welcoming words and then a stirring video tribute to tonight's honoree.
"The Heart of a Ranger." It can't be stressed enough tonight.
The last picture during of the video was Graves lifting the Stanley Cup.
Rosen is back on now.
"Tonight we pay tribute to a guy who embodies all that the New York Rangers stand for," he started. "The pride of a man who has had the distinct privilege to represent the greatest city in the world, New York, on the world's greatest stage, Madison Square Garden, for 10 glorious years as a player and since 2005 as a member of the front office."
Rosen suggested that without Graves, 1994 might have just be another year in Rangers' history, not the greatest year of all time.
And, with that, Rosen introduced Graves to the standing and raucous crowd. He walked past the Rangers locker room, past his former teammates that are here, past adoring firemen and policeman and fans of all ages. He shook as many hands as he could find. They are his people. This is his moment. If he could he would stop and talk to every single one of them.
He hugged a man in a wheelchair and another who is attached to a breathing machine. This is amazing. It's as if everyone he ever touched was lining the red carpet for Graves on his way to the ice. He patted heads, kissed his wife and walked out to a roar of the crowd and blinding flashes going off.
Graves is home. This is home. For a boy from North York, Ont. it may be weird, but Madison Square Garden is his home.
As he stepped onto the red carpet he patted his chest and saluted the fans. He clapped for them. HE CLAPPED FOR THEM!
Welcome Adam Graves. There are plenty of tears and cheers in this building right now.
6:35 p.m. ET
The No. 9 is shining down by way of spotlights from the ceiling, one in each faceoff circle on both ends of the ice. At center ice is a giant carpet covering the entire faceoff circle. On it rests three trophies - the King Clancy, Bill Masterton and Stanley Cup. A long red carpet stretches from the Zamboni door to the center ice carpet. Another carpet stretches from the entrance between the benches. A third goes from the faceoff circle to the area just between the circles on the home goal side of the ice.
Most of the fans have filed in. The Rangers always sellout, and this game will be no exception. I've seen jerseys of former Rangers and current Rangers. Nos. 2, 35, 11 and 9 dominate. Funny, three of them are already flying above everybody here. The fourth will go up there shortly.
I don't know where Adam Graves is right now, but I'm sure he's putting a smile on someone's face. That's not his way to deflect the nerves. That's really who he is. He makes people happy, and tonight he'll bring an entire fanbase to its collective feet.
All they have to do is say "No. 9, Adam Graves," and the fans go nuts. They're billing this night as the Heart of a Ranger. Graves fits it.
Sam Rosen, the longtime Rangers broadcaster, is the emcee tonight. He's at the podium right now.
"Tonight, we honor one of the great Rangers of all time," Rosen said. "The incomparable Adam Graves."
6:25 p.m. ET
I just got up to my perch in the south press box and as I was walking up the steps the P.A. announcer welcomed the fans to the Garden for Adam Graves' Night. He then introduced three trophies, all by way of Toronto and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The first trophy brought out to center ice, where there is a giant carpet spread over the faceoff circle, was the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Graves won that in 1994. Next up was the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which Graves won in 2001.
Finally, Mike Bolt from the Hockey Hall of Fame brought out the Stanley Cup and placed it just above the blue, red and white No. 9 that is stitched onto the carpet. The Cup, as it should, received a standing ovation from the folks that have already filed in here. They all remember 1994.
Right now they are showing a tribute video to Graves as more and more fans file in for the big moment. The game won't begin for another 90 minutes, but I suspect most of the crowd has already arrived. As I already stated in a story, Graves may be the most beloved Ranger of all time. He is a fan favorite because he is a friend to all the fans.
The ceremony is under 10 minutes away. I suspect there will be a few tears coming in a short while. It's a good thing they have a carpet on the ice or else those tears may melt the center ice faceoff circle.
Hope you're enjoying this blog as much as I'm enjoying bringing it to you. I know a lot of people interested in this event are either in the building or watching on their televisions, but it's my goal to bring you the feel of the atmosphere. That's why we chronicle these events live, or as live as we possibly can make them in words. It does take some time to type.
Either way, enjoy and away we go...
6 p.m. ET
I took the subway from our office at 1185 Avenue of the Americas down to 34th and 6th. It's only two stops, but outside a wet snow (sounds redundant, I know) is coming down, making it extremely uncomfortable to walk the 14 blocks and two avenues. It's not that it's really cold, but you get the picture...
Anyway, as I got out of the subway and on to the street I immediately saw three guys wearing Adam Graves' No. 9 sweaters. This was more than 90 minutes before the ceremony was to begin. I also saw a few guys wearing Richter No. 35 sweaters, a few in a Messier No. 11 jersey and one even wearing a Brendan Shanahan No. 14. That doesn't mean as much tonight.
I got into the Garden and after getting through some computer issues I was able to head downstairs to listen to Rangers coach Tom Renney address the media before the ceremony.
"To all of us and certainly to Adam it's pretty special to be recognized," Renney said. "He would be the last one to tell you that I'm sure, but I don't mind standing in front of you telling you how special it is for all of us to be recognizing him in front of 18,000 of the Garden faithful."
Renney stressed that Graves is not only important to the team and the city in his civic capacity, but as one of the people involved in the Rangers' player development he interacts a lot with the young players in the organization, such as Artem Anisimov, who is making his NHL debut tonight.
"He's very important to us," Renney said. "He has a lot of interaction with our young guys that are doing everything they can to get here. I can't think of a better guy to share what that takes in the manner that he does than Adam."
Renney said he first met Graves at the World Championship in 1998. He had seen him a couple of times before that, but that tournament was his first real interaction with him.
"He was just outstanding," the coach said. "You could just see why this guy had the reputation he did. At that point in time you said to yourself, 'I hope I get an opportunity to be in this guys company again.' And, here we are."
Thirty minutes until the show...
4:05 p.m. ET
I'm still in the office up on the corner of 47th and 6th in Manhattan working on a few other stories before I head down to the Garden for the big night. That means I had the good fortune of chatting for about 15 minutes with Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on a number of topics, including Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and the Wings' struggling PK.
When I mentioned to Babcock that I would be leaving shortly to go to Adam Graves Night at MSG, the coach said he never knew Graves as a player but has had the opportunity to meet him a few times since No. 9 hung up his skates in 2004. No surprise, Graves left an impression on Babcock, too.
"Not only does he have integrity and is a quality man, but he has a way of making people feel great," Babcock said. "There is just something about him. I know him very little, but every time you get a chance to talk to him it's that quality in him that comes out."
2:45 p.m. ET
Tonight is a big night at Madison Square Garden. Tonight, a good guy gets rewarded. Tonight, the cynics will let their guard down (and put down their pens) and actually stand and applaud not only a good hockey player, but a great man.
Tonight, in the sports media capital of the world, the focus is on Adam Graves, which is so ironic it's laughable.
Nobody has tried to shun the spotlight quite like Graves has since he arrived in New York more than 17 years ago. If he could, Graves would save the world in total anonymity. He'd at least try to and probably come closer than the rest of us.
However, tonight, Graves will stand at center ice, a carpet below his loafers, and try to compose himself as he sweats in the glow of New York City's spotlight.
We all know that's pretty hard to do.
"I would say he'll be more than emotional," Messier said Monday during a press conference at Madison Square Garden. "He can barely talk right now, let alone (tonight)."
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET and it precedes the Rangers game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Before I head down the street to the Garden, here's a little more on tonight's honoree:
No one could have predicted Graves would end up at center ice tonight watching his jersey being lifted to the rafters. It's not that he's the total longshot made good, but Graves' skill was never confused with that of Messier's or Leetch's. Or, for that matter, Gilbert's.
Instead, it was Graves tough-as-nails, cop-like mentality on the ice that drove his success. The son of a tough-as-nails Toronto policeman, Graves was never afraid to go into the dirty areas, be it in front of the net or in the corners. He was never afraid to drop his gloves in the honor of a teammate.
Graves scored 329 hard regular-season goals in the NHL anmd another 38 in the playoffs. He had 280 regular-season goals with the Rangers, including a then team-record 52 in 1993-94 when he participated in his only All-Star Game. Graves had another 10 goals and seven assists in 23 playoff games that year, helping the Rangers end a 54-year-old curse with a Stanley Cup victory that still lives as one of New York's greatest sports moments.
"One of the things that makes him an interesting guy to be around is how different he can be off the ice than he is on the ice," Richter said. "The most respectful, quiet, polite person off the ice and on the ice, clearly from the moment he came here, he had the ability to be a policeman or he could change a game by scoring."
Graves grew up a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He admits that is all he knew. It was as if the rest of the NHL didn't exist around him.
"My whole world was the Toronto Maple Leafs, but honestly (the NHL) seemed so far away," he said. "It wasn't overwhelming, but it seemed so beyond. It wasn't until I turned 17 and grew a little bit I got noticed a little more and it became a little more of a reality."
He was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the 1986 Entry Draft, 22nd overall. He was moved to Edmonton early in the 1989-90 season and even though he played an integral role on the Oiler's championship team that season it wasn't until Graves arrived in New York on Sept. 3, 1991 that his career officially took flight.
Graves has been a New Yorker ever since. He will be honored by an appreciative organization tonight and applauded - loudly, I assume - by an adoring audience of fans, most of which No. 9 has probably met at one time or another in person.
No matter what team you cheer for, or in these parts of the hockey world, what side of the river you're on, everyone should stand in unison tonight for Adam Graves. It's the least the hockey community can do for a man who has given so much in return.
"I can feel it in my chest. I can feel the weight. I feel very weighted and very humbled," Graves said. "(Tonight) is an opportunity for me just to say thank you to everyone for allowing me to be a part of New York, to be a part of wearing this jersey and the tradition. I always looked upon it as a privilege. I always have and I always will. (Tonight) is beyond anything I ever imagined. My game wasn't the fanciest or prettiest of styles. That's how I'm honestly feeling."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com