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Bruins, Leetch - A winning combination

by Jeremy Lemoine / Boston Bruins
BOSTON, MA - On October 18, 2005, Brian Leetch assisted on a Nick Boynton slap shot from the point, giving Leetch his 1,000th career National Hockey League point and making him just the seventh defenseman in history to reach that elite mark. He also scored the game's second goal of the night on a power play, sneaking into the left side of the net, where he was able to one-time a pass from Sergei Samsonov.

"I'm proud to have played in the league for as long as I have and be able to reach 1,000 points," Leetch said. "It certainly was not a goal of mine, but to be associated with the group of guys that have already done it is quite an honor. The thing I'm most proud of through all of this is that I've been able to play this long. You never know what can happen and I'm just happy I'm still able to play."

Brian Leetch enters his 18th season in the NHL, signing with the Boston Bruins as a free agent on August 3, 2005. Along the way, Leetch racked up 245 goals and 759 assists for a total of 1,004 points, 981 of which came while manning the Rangers blue line. His resume reads like the who's who of NHL defensemen. He won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in the 1988-89 campaign and has won the James Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman on two different occasions (1992 and 1997). Oh yeah, he's an 11-time league All-Star too.

In the 1993-94 season, he hoisted Lord Stanley's cup, calling it by far his greatest achievement. His 34 playoff points that season was the second highest in NHL history by a defenseman. Those honors gained him playoff MVP, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and becoming the first U.S. born player to win that award.

"Winning the Stanley Cup was my greatest memory for sure. That's on a different level by itself. I did it in New York and the team hadn't won in 54 years so that was a real special time," Leetch reflected. "Things that stick out beyond that are my first NHL game, first NHL goal, playing against Gretzky, Messier, and Coffey. Of course your first All-Star Game, all those firsts you kind of dreamed about in the back of your mind and when they finally happen, it's a bit of a shock."

Like any fledgling hockey player, Brian Leetch had a dream. The Cheshire, Connecticut native had hopes of one day playing in the National Hockey League. As the years passed, that dream slowly developed into a reality. From his days of prep school at Avon Old Farms to his year of college hockey at Boston College, to his current stint with the Boston Bruins, what a reality it has become.

Leetch played his high school hockey career splitting the four years between Cheshire High School and Avon Old Farms, respectively. He transferred to Avon Old Farms as a junior and excelled. He finished his two seasons of hockey there with 169 points, making him the leading scorer in school history. What makes that feat even more remarkable is that he reached 169 points in just two seasons, 91 of them during his senior year. The 1986 team that he captained went undefeated with a 22-0-1 record and Leetch was named the All New-England Player of the Year and received numerous other accolades for community service and leadership. For that, he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.

Following his two years at Avon Old Farms, Leetch played one season at Boston College where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. college player, becoming the first freshman ever nominated for the award. Leetch notched 47 points (9-38=47) in only 37 games and won Hockey East Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year, earning All-Hockey East and All-American honors. Leetch joined the New York Rangers in 1987 at the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Calgary and the rest is history.

When Boston came out of the lockout this past summer searching for players built in the Bruins mold, Leetch was at the top of the list. His on-ice talent, combined with his attitude and leadership off the ice, made him a natural fit. Coach Mike Sullivan seems to think so too.

"He's a great player and that goes without saying," said Coach Sullivan. "What most people don't know about him is the type of guy that he is and what he brings to our team. As far as his whole professionalism and his approach, he's been invaluable to our team. I think everybody realizes how good of a player he is."

The great thing about Brian Leetch is that he sets his example by doing, not by speaking. If he feels someone could use advice, he might say something, but he would rather go out on the ice and simply execute it.

"He's the kind of guy that brings a lot of experience and a lot of talent to our team," fellow defenseman Hal Gill said. "He runs our power play and seems to just make everything look so effortless and puts everything in control for us when things seem to get hectic. He's the kind of guy that will go down and block a shot and I think that separates him from a lot of guys. He puts his heart on his sleeve and brings it day in and day out. Leetchy can't be compared to anyone in the NHL. Just by watching him, he improves your game; he does the little things so well."

His leadership on the team is clearly felt, especially on the rookies. In this role, Leetch helps the young guys stay positive at all times throughout the long season.

"As the season progresses, you try and read their ups-and-downs because it's a long season. They (rookies) go through a lot of different things in their first pro NHL season," explained Leetch. "These guys have a great work ethic though. You don't have to tell them to get in the gym or work on a certain thing. They are always looking to improve and I think that's great. It's the veterans, like me, that need to keep up off the ice," he said with a smile.

As for Boston, Brian Leetch appears to love it here.

"Boston's great. I came at the right time as they're finishing up the ‘Big Dig,'" laughed Leetch. "I have been going to Boston in the summers for a long time and spending my last 12 years down the Cape. My dad's from Braintree so Boston is a city I'm more familiar with. I grew up knowing a lot more about Boston than New York, where I started, so it is nice to be back and see a lot of familiar sites."

Brian Leetch emerged as one of the best defensemen in the NHL with hard work and determination. The hockey rink is a place where dreams are born and hockey players are made. For that, Brian Leetch is thankful; thankful for being able to play in 1,157 career NHL games and tally 1,004 total points; thankful for breaking records, reaching milestones, and winning awards. He is a leader on and off the ice and integral to the team he plays for. Brian Leetch is more than just the numbers. He is a winner, simply put.
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