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Stanley Cup Final

Graves looks ahead to the Classic Alumni Game

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Adam Graves will look across the red line on Dec. 31 at Citizens Bank Park and see many aging yet familiar, and mostly unfriendly, faces.

He'll see Eric Lindros and John LeClair, two-thirds of the Legion of Doom line that created so many problems for the Rangers in the mid-90s. He'll see Mark Recchi, his former roommate during the 1988 World Junior Championship in Moscow, who became an enemy when he was traded from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in 1992.

He'll see Kjell Samuelsson, the towering Swedish defenseman who made life so difficult for him for so many years.

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"For me to have an opportunity as a Ranger to match up against those guys, those Philly teams, you knew you had to be ready to come to play," Graves told NHL.com. "You didn't like the Flyers. You respected them, but you didn't like them. But, you enjoyed playing against them because it brought out your best. I always liked going down to Philly to play against the Flyers."

Graves can't wait to get down to Philly to play against the Flyers one last time. He could care less that it's for an alumni game and not the real thing.

"I think there is a little bit of the curiosity of the unknown," Graves said when asked how all these former rivals will respond in an exhibition all these years later. "At the same time, to have the opportunity to get back on the ice is going to be special. And, to be playing outside -- I like to think you never have to grow up but it's not very often you can genuinely feel like a kid. This is one of those great opportunities."

Graves always thought the bus ride down the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia presented a great opportunity. He couldn't wait for those mid-90s matchups against Lindros, LeClair and Michael Renberg.

The Rangers strategy against that line never changed, but the results varied from 1995-97. They went 8-5-2 against the Flyers during the Legion of Doom era, but tossed in there was a 4-0 Flyers' sweep of the Rangers in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Flyers also made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997 by beating the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

"Obviously they were big, but they could skate," Graves recalled of the Legion of Doom. "We wanted them to play a 200-foot game. We didn't want to get it so we were playing the entire game in our end so they could cycle and use their bodies. That's where (defenseman) Brian Leetch was so remarkable. Physically he was not a big man, but he was so skilled, talented and tough that he could match up against those guys and that's who he would play against all the time.

"But, it certainly wasn't an easy task because those guys -- not only were they big, but they were skilled and they could skate. That's a tough combination to go against. You look at their record when those guys were in their prime, and they had an excellent team at the top of the League."

When the Rangers were able to turn Leetch's defense into offense, Graves said skating around guys like Samuelsson and Chris Therrien presented a whole different challenge.

"Kjell Samuelsson I remember because he was so big and such a hard guy to play against," Graves said. "Even when you thought you had a step on him or you could reach by him for a puck he would use his reach and he was such a strong guy."

"You didn't like the Flyers. You respected them, but you didn't like them. But, you enjoyed playing against them because it brought out your best. I always liked going down to Philly to play against the Flyers." -- Adam Graves
Graves, though, was quick to point out the Rangers also had a big, strong team, especially in the early '90s with Jeff Beukeboom, Kris King and Tie Domi.

"I can remember when we first went down there to the Spectrum. big Beuk going on a breakaway on (Ron) Hextall, and I think he scored," Graves said. "Big Beuk had hands when he came down on a breakaway. I think he went forehand to backhand and scored. It was a pretty good goal."

And how did Hextall react?

"Well, I wouldn't throw my stick at Beuk," Graves said laughing. "He probably thought about it, though."

Soon after, the Flyers changed personnel and became just as tough as the Rangers. They brought in LeClair to create the Legion of Doom. They brought back Samuelsson and traded for Eric Desjardins. Therrien made it to the big club and Shjon Podein came on board.

Philadelphia got better and New York was never quite as good as it was in its Cup-winning year of 1994, but the rivalry remained as fierce as ever with Graves among several Rangers that played a part in so many chapters of it.

"Whenever the Rangers and Flyers got together, regardless of where each team was placing in the standings, you knew it was going to be a tough game," Graves said. "They had a big strong team and you had to be ready to play because they could wear you down."

So, what will happen when so many of the Flyers and Rangers from the 1990s skate against each again in Philadelphia on Dec. 31?

"We'll find out," Graves said. "We may be past our prime."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
 
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