Every time Adam Graves gazes at the rafters in Madison Square Garden he realizes how lucky he was, and still is, to be able to spend his life setting standards of excellence on and off the ice.
A banner hangs there honoring the No. 9 Graves wore for 10 seasons playing for the New York Rangers. The number was retired Feb. 3, 2009, where it hangs alongside Brian Leetch, Mark Messier and Mike Richter, who he joined with in 1994 to bring the Rangers their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. It also sits alongside banners honoring Rangers greats Rod Gilbert, Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate and Eddie Giacomin.
Graves works in hockey and business operations for the Rangers. He lives in Oakville, Ontario, but often travels to New York to help with various programs, summer hockey schools and development camps. That's when he's back at the Garden, the site of his greatest professional accomplishment.
"The one thing I do feel is very, very humble, and also understanding the great players I am so very fortunate to be beside up there," he said. "I was a product of my environment. I was very, very fortunate to play with great players. I was a guy who was lucky to play with special players.
"I was just very fortunate to wear that jersey and play on Garden ice and be a part of New York City and the bigger Ranger family. I'll always feel very humbled. It's a hard thing to put into words, how overwhelmingly humble I am about that, being part of that great group."
Graves was selected by the Detroit Red Wings with the 22nd pick of the 1986 NHL Draft and helped the Edmonton Oilers win the Stanley Cup in 1990. But he emerged as a star after he signed with the Rangers as a free agent Sept. 3, 1991.
In 1991-92 he had 59 points (26 goals, 33 assists) in 80 games to help the Rangers win the Presidents' Trophy, and then in 1993-94 he had 52 goals, a Rangers record that stood until Jaromir Jagr scored 54 in 2005-06.
He had 10 goals in 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games in 1994, including a goal in Game 7 of the Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in a game they won 3-2. Graves remembers not feeling comfortable that night until the final buzzer sounded.
"After 54 years you couldn't expect anything different, right?" he said. "I think when we still look back and the odd time we watch that we're still nervous watching [even though] we know the outcome. That tells you how special it was to have been a part of."
Graves retired in 2003 after 16 NHL seasons. He had 616 points (329 goals, 287 assists) in 1,152 games with the Red Wings, Oilers, Rangers and San Jose Sharks.
In his current role with the Rangers, Graves supports fan development, community relations, hockey development, the Garden of Dreams, the New York Rangers Alumni Association and grassroots junior Rangers programs including the Learn to Play Hockey Program, where he works with fellow alum Brian Mullen.
As great a player as Graves was, it was his philanthropy that earned him numerous honors, including the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2000, and made him one of the most popular players to wear a Rangers jersey.
"When you're doing these different events, whether it's Casino Night for Garden of Dreams, Garden of Laughs for the Garden of Dreams … you have as much fun as the kids do," he said. "That's the best part because it's enriching both your lives. That is really the rewarding part of it. You meet people that become friends for life.
"The greatest gift is the people that I've met, the kids that I've met and the community leaders I've met and the different experiences I get to be a part of. Because you're lucky enough to play on Garden ice it does give you that opportunity to meet a lot of people you wouldn't otherwise get to meet."