NEW YORK --
When Brian Leetch
announced to a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd last Jan. 24 that Adam Graves
' No. 9 was going to be raised to the rafters the following winter, it took the man who wore that uniform number a few seconds to figure out what was going on.
"Confusion," is how Leetch described the look on Graves' face when he made his announcement at the Garden that night.
The problem was Graves couldn't totally hear what Leetch was saying. The speakers were facing toward the crowd and Graves was standing on the ice in his Rangers' jersey with other legends wearing the same colors. It was so loud he could barely make out Leetch's words.
However, when he finally realized what his good friend and former teammate had announced, that the crowd was now standing and cheering for him, Graves smiled, looked up, shook a few hands and nearly burst into tears.
"He understood his name was being talked about and he had a bit of an idea of what I was saying, but he couldn't hear verbatim what I said," Leetch said. "He saw me looking at him and he had an idea of what was going on, but I knew he was confused so that's when I started to go toward him."
After embracing Leetch and patting his former teammate and good friend on the head, Graves pointed both of his arms at the great defenseman, the man of the hour, urging him to continue on with his night, his speech, his jersey retirement ceremony.
"Your night," Graves muttered to Leetch, pushing his arms in his direction. "Your night."
Typical Graves. He never craved the spotlight as a player and you can be sure that now he'd give it up to spend five more minutes with a person in need.
That's what is so ironic about Tuesday night's planned ceremony to honor Graves and raise his No. 9 to the rafters, where it will join Leetch's No. 2, Mark Messier
's No. 11, Mike Richter
's No. 35, Eddie Giacomin's No. 1 and Rod Gilbert
's No. 7.
No one went out of his way more to get out of the spotlight, but come Tuesday night Graves won't be able to run from it. He'll be sweating in it.
"Once I comprehended what he said I felt a great deal of weight fall on my shoulders," Graves said of Leetch's announcement. "With each passing day you would think that the weight would decrease, but instead it has increased. I probably haven't felt this weighted and humbled ever, and I say that respectfully."
It was Leetch's idea to make the announcement during his speech. He said originally the Rangers wanted to do it at a charity event prior to Leetch's big night, but they were struggling to get all the big wigs, including owner James Dolan and GM Glen Sather
, together at the same time.
"I said, 'I'll do it on the ice if you want me to,' " Leetch said."(Rangers V.P. of Public Relations and Player Recruitment) John Rosasco paused and said, 'We'll get back to you on that.' A couple of days later he called and said, 'If you want to do that, that's great.' I said, 'Absolutely, there is no problem."
Building that announcement into the middle of his speech actually helped Leetch get through the evening. He was incredibly nervous to try to portray his feelings in words, but knowing that he was going to shock Graves and the fans put him at ease.
"I knew he'd be surprised," Leetch said. "There were only three or four people that knew about the announcement. I knew the crowd would be excited and I was excited the Rangers had decided to do this and I was going to be a part of it. I tried to give a little bit back affection-wise to someone who shunned the limelight more than I did. Someone that was the ultimate team guy that wanted to be in the background of everything."
Contact Dan Rosen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.