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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Leetch's career built on an array of accomplishments

Tuesday, 11.03.2009 / 10:56 AM / Hall of Fame

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

"My biggest memory was watching the city celebrate and embrace the team for three days. We knew it was 54 years and to see how much it meant to so many people who followed the organization through parents and grandparents. Anytime, I go back its inevitable that someone says thanks for 1994. It was a great run and it meant a lot to a lot of people."
-- Brian Leetch

Brian Leetch ranks at the top of great American hockey players and the captain of the 1996 World Cup champions will receive a well-deserved honor Nov. 9 when he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame -- even if he questions his worthiness.

"It's a funny feeling because you don't feel like you belong, especially when I look at Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, great players that I played against. Then there're the older players that I've read about and seen highlights. It seems like they should have a separate Hall of Fame for them that you'd never be able to get into. You're happy just to make this part.

"It's going to be a humbling and strange feeling to be in the same building with so many greats of the game."

Believe us, Leetch's accomplishments are vast. He was a champion high school and prep-school hockey and baseball player while growing up in Connecticut and a member of three U.S. National Junior teams from 1985-87. He also was a member of the 1987 U.S. National team. He became a member of the 1988, 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympic hockey teams and also was a member of the silver-medal American team in the 1991 Canada Cup.

Leetch was voted the best American player on the silver-medal team at the 2002 Olympics, and at the 1989 World Championship. He was named to the First All-Star Team at the 1987 World Junior Championship.

He played one year at Boston College and took nearly every available honor short of the Hobey Baker Award. He was the first freshman finalist for NCAA hockey's highest award. Leetch was named to the Hockey East All-Star Team and the NCAA East First All-American Team. He was the Hockey East Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player.
 
"I played that year at Boston College for Len Ceglarski and the competition really improved my game," Leetch said. "I was making a big jump from prep school to college and I got a lot of ice time against guys who were three or four years older than me."

Despite all those credits, Leetch will be remembered most for his outstanding play in helping lead the New York Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, ending a 54-year drought for the Rangers and their fans. Leetch had 34 points, including 11 goals, to lead all players in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

"My biggest memory was watching the city celebrate and embrace the team for three days. We knew it was 54 years and to see how much it meant to so many people who followed the organization through parents and grandparents," Leetch said. "Anytime I go back it's inevitable that someone says thanks for 1994. It was a great run and it meant a lot to a lot of people.

"It's always nice to go back to New York, I live in Boston now and we're very happy here, but I go back there once in a while. I sometimes forget that 1994 meant so much to a lot of people. I played so long and people remember that too. I get reminded when people thank me or say 'good to see you.'"

Leetch's 34 points during the 1994 Playoffs were the second-most ever for a defenseman, behind only Paul Coffey's 37 points in 1985. He led the Rangers with 5 goals and 6 assists in the Final against the Vancouver Canucks.

Long regarded as one of the NHL's best offensive defensemen, Leetch was on the ice for 61 of the Rangers' 81 goals in the 1994 Playoffs, including 19 of their 22 power-play goals. He had a point in each of the team's first nine playoff games and in 19 of the 23 games.

NHL awards were not rare for Leetch. The Rangers made him their first pick, ninth overall, in the 1986 Entry Draft and he debuted in 1987-88 with 23 goals and 71 goals to earn the Calder Memorial Trophy. After recovering from a broken ankle, Leetch had his most productive season in 1991-92, when he had 22 goals and 102 points and won the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman.

He was the first Rangers defenseman to capture the Norris since Harry Howell in 1967. Leetch won the Norris Trophy again in 1997 when he had 20 goals and 58 assists. He was also named captain of the Rangers that season, holding the post until Mark Messier returned in 2000.

Leetch said his professional progress was greatly aided by the 1991 trade that brought Messier to New York. The two men became close friends and the leaders of the 1994 championship team.

"When Mark came to New York the first time, it couldn't have been better for me," Leetch said. "Mark is the person who had the most influence, on and off the ice, in my professional career. My parents have had the greatest influence on me, but Mark is next in line. I couldn't have a better person as a friend and teammate. I learned from him because he did such a great job.

"When he left and I became captain, it wasn't a burden for me or changed what I did."

Leetch was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs late in 2003-04 season. He finished his 18-year career with one last season with the Boston Bruins.

Leetch retired with 247 goals and 781 assists for 1028 points in 1,205 NHL games.

Leetch is a quiet, consistent person, and it was reflected in his play. But he admits that he's been riding waves of emotion since being named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in June.

"I think I've had every emotion and I'm definitely nervous," Leetch said. "They only give you four minutes (for a speech),. so I've been paring down notes. I've got at least 15 minutes worth of stuff I want to say. I'll be excited to see the guys go on the ice on Sunday. I've been skating lately, just to see how it feels again."

Leetch loved hockey and chose it over baseball for a professional career, but he never envisioned the day he'd be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I grew up in Connecticut and didn't know anybody who was playing in the NHL or had played," Leetch continued. "There was no way for me to compare skills. I looked at the Olympics and saw a bunch of American college kids competing with the best players from other countries. That was my far-off goal, not the NHL. Growing up where I did, you couldn't see yourself making the jump to the NHL. That was too far-fetched.

"I don't think I had any frame of reference to halls of fame until my dad, Jack, got into the Boston College Hall of Fame. I never thought about it for myself until I was about 10 years into my career and writers started to refer to me as 'a future Hall of Famer,' and I'd think to myself, 'What? I've got like what, 29 goals?'"

It's that self-deprecating approach that makes Leetch uncomfortable when compared to great offensive defensemen like Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey.

"I hate it," Leetch said. "Bobby Orr was so far ahead of everybody, it makes others look bad in comparison. Orr could do this or that that Leetch couldn't.' Bobby changed everything, right up to the way hockey was played after him. That's what I mean about a separate wing for guys like him, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, those guys who have done so much in the game. I just don't like those conversations."
"It's a funny feeling because you don't feel like you belong, especially when I look at Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, great players that I played against. Then there're the older players that I've read about and seen highlights. It seems like they should have a separate Hall of Fame for them that you'd never be able to get into. You're happy just to make this part." -- Brian Leetch
Obviously, Leetch was a great competitor, a champion, but it's funny to hear from him where he got the motivation to be as good as he was.

"I didn't look at it as my competitiveness, but rather my responsibility to my teammates," Leetch said. "I got a lot of ice time and I played in important situations so I had a sense of responsibility to not let my teammates down. My motivation was my fear of failure. Maybe that's where you got a sense that I was highly competitive, but I'm not in a lot of ways. I don't always have to win at ping pong. I want to do my best, sure, but if I lose it's not going to bust up the rest of my day. Not so when I was playing hockey.”

Leetch has talked a lot about his dad, Jack, who taught him hockey and was able to give his son plenty of ice time while he managed a Connecticut hockey rink. Brian Leetch followed his dad to Boston College and has been generous in his praise of his father. Leetch was asked how his mother influenced him in
life and warmed to the question.

"My mom, Jan, Janice, is the one who has kept our family together," Leetch said. "We have a lot of quiet personalities and it's my mom who is always calling and asking questions and giving pats on the back. I might not talk to my brother or sister for a month, but Mom knows everything that's going on and that's how I usually learn what's up.

"She's a warm, loving person and she passed on to her kids the importance of communication and family. She was the one who did it all the years that my dad was working and sometimes traveling a lot. It's important to have that kind of foundation. Mary Beth and I have three kids, Jack, 9, Riley, 6, and Sean, 4, and we're trying to be the same kind of supportive parents."


I didn't think it would actually work, but it ended up working, so I'm thanking my lucky stars tonight.

— Columbus forward Nick Foligno on scoring the overtime goal after telling the Blue Jackets in the locker room that he would win the game