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Leetch always calm, cool and collected

Tuesday, 11.03.2009 / 11:10 AM / Hall of Fame

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Brian Leetch's BMW was spinning out of control on the slippery road, heading straight for the guard rail on the Hutchinson River Parkway. Leetch was sitting in the backseat. Mark Messier was driving and Mike Richter was in the car, too.

They were on their way to Rye, N.Y. for practice when they came around a big clover leaf, into a downhill slide and right into traffic. Unable to stop, all Messier could do is turn into the direction of the guardrail.

As the captain and goalie braced themselves for the inevitable crash, Leetch's eyes didn't peal away from his newspaper. He never looked up. Never.

"We were doing 360s into the guard rail and he says something like, 'Pretty slippery, huh?' " Messier told NHL.com. "He never lifted his eyes off the paper as we slammed into the guard rail, and it was HIS car."

Richter actually has another story with Leetch, his car and a guardrail. This time, Leetch was driving and Richter was in the passenger seat reading the newspaper.

"He suddenly put his arm across my chest and said, 'Hold on,' in such a way that I didn't even bother looking up," Richter told NHL.com. "But when I dropped the paper, I saw a guard rail coming right at us. I'm freaking out and he calmly steps on the breaks, avoids it and tells me, 'Hold on, Ricky.' Fortunately, we both got out of it alive."

"That's the way he was and that's the way he played," added Messier. "He was very cool under fire."

Maybe that's a little too cool, but you get the point.

Leetch's personality both on and off the ice fit the Rangers in those years perfectly.

On a 1994 Stanley Cup championship team that was loaded with tabloid personalities like Messier, Richter, Adam Graves, Eddie Olcyzk, Jeff Beukeboom, Kevin Lowe and Glenn Healy, Leetch was the quiet assassin.

He finished his career with 1,028 points, the Calder Trophy, two Norris Trophies and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1994. But he was rarely seen or heard off the ice.

"He played the type of game of a man twice the size of his," Messier said of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Leetch. "He played with a heart of a lion and then you add on amazing conditioning and on top of that some God given talent."

Messier still marvels at Leetch's skating ability. Like his personality, he was so fluid and calm. He made skating in the NHL look easy.

"It was just unparalleled," Messier said. "His lateral movement, the way he was able to elude checks … he was a powerful skater, very agile on his feet, changed directions like I have never seen. That really allowed him to play the kind of game and be so elusive while not being a big man by NHL standards. That's why he was always able to stay healthy."

Even though he was laid back and exceptionally reserved, Messier said Leetch was incredibly hard on himself. The pressure he put on himself to perform at a peak level every night was intense. He had to be a difference maker. There was no other way.

"He would be very disappointed when he didn't play well," Messier said. "Every great championship team seems to have a guy on defense like Brian; a guy who can play the minutes, rush the puck, score big goals, move the puck. He was our guy.

"He was 30 something minutes a game and played probably with as much or more courage than anyone I have ever played with."

That's because he feared nothing, not forechecking forwards or guardrails on the Hutch.

"That's the type of person he is," Richter said.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com


Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp