It's fitting that the latest player from the New York Rangers
' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team to have his number retired also happens to be first in the hearts of countless fans throughout the hockey fraternity.
, who retired from professional hockey following the 2002-03 season after a memorable 17-year career, was not only known as an impeccable workaholic on the ice, but a true humanitarian off of it.
On Feb. 3, he'll become the sixth Ranger to have his jersey retired along with Rod Gilbert
(7), Eddie Giacomin (1), Mike Richter
(35), Mark Messier
(11) and Brian Leetch
(2) in a pregame ceremony prior to the team's meeting with the Atlanta Thrashers
On the night his jersey was retired in January 2008, Leetch delivered the news to Rangers fans that Graves' No. 9 would be raised to the rafters at MSG. The All-Star defenseman is ecstatic the team's "heart and soul" is being honored.
"You could never question the character of Adam Graves
," Leetch told NHL.com. "He's probably one of the strongest individuals I've ever been around when it comes to character -- he would do anything for his teammates."
Graves, who now serves in the Rangers' Hockey and Business Operations department, had set the franchise record for most goals in a season with 52 in 1993-94 (since broken by Jaromir Jagr
in 2005-06), and ranks third in career goals (280) and 10th in points (507).
"When he came from Edmonton (in 1991), he had a pretty big contract but didn't score many goals," Richter said. "But everyone pulled for him because he was the type of guy who stayed longer at practice and continued to work, knowing it would eventually come. Once the goals came, they came in buckets."
He also won several Rangers awards in recognition of his contributions to the community, including the Steven McDonald Award (1992, 1993, 1994, 1999, and 2000), the Rangers Fan Club Ceil Saidel Memorial Award (1996, 1997 and 2000) and the Crumb Bum Award for service to New York's youngsters (1993).
"The numerous things he did off the ice I know he got from his parents, especially his dad, because he grew up in a very loving and giving family and he continued that probably many times over," Leetch said. "He's just someone that if you're lucky enough to know and call your friend, you're just better for it as a person and I feel that way today."
Leetch and Richter spent 10 seasons with Graves in the Rangers' dressing room, from 1991-92 through 2000-01.
"One of the greatest things about Adam is he's one of the nicest men you'll ever meet and you'd realize that after talking to him for only five minutes," Richter said. "When he came into the locker room, he'd have a cup of coffee and a big smile and say 'How you doin' Ricky,' and you could sit down and have a very nice discussion with him.
"On the ice, he was as tough as you could ask any one player to be. I remember those first couple of years when (Mark Messier
) first came to the team that anytime someone looked at Mess the wrong way, Adam was dropping the gloves. And, you forget, in addition to dropping the gloves, he was also scoring 50 goals and doing everything he possibly could as a power forward."
During the Rangers' Stanley Cup march in 1993-94, when Messier was the team's captain, Graves scored 52 goals and totaled 127 penalty minutes. He was an integral part of the Rangers' postseason, posting 10 goals and 17 points in 23 games.
"You never had to worry about Adam being ready for a game because it never felt like he would let you down," Leetch said. "So you would try and keep up with him. I remember a lot of times when things didn't go well, he was one of the guys you would feel bad for the next day because he was the one going into the corner, fighting for you or standing in front of the net getting cross-checked and doing whatever he could to try and spark the team and get it going."
Despite the fact Pat LaFontaine
teamed with Graves for just one season (1997-98) in New York, the feisty left wing still left a lasting impression.
"He's just a tremendous role model," LaFontaine said. "I'd tell my son to watch Adam Graves
if he wanted to learn how to handle himself and treat people on and off the ice. He was the real deal when he played and just exerted class, dignity and respect. He's a good husband, good father and even though I only played one season with him, I walked away with so much respect. He's a great human being.''
LaFontaine, who retired from the NHL in 1998 after 15 productive seasons, garnered the Heisman Humanitarian Award last year.
Leetch knows Graves will never forget his night at the Garden.
"I know he's going to be emotional and humbled by the whole thing and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of tears from him," Leetch said. "It's going to be fun."
Graves appeared in 1,152 career games with the Rangers, Detroit Red Wings
, Edmonton Oilers
and San Jose Sharks
, registering 329 goals, 616 points and 1,224 penalty minutes. He was selected to participate in the 1994 NHL All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, and was honored with the King Clancy
Memorial Trophy (1994), the NHL Foundation Award (2000) and the Bill Masterton
Memorial Trophy (2001). The Toronto, Ontario native also starred internationally, winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 1988. He later served as captain of the Canadian Team at the '93 World Championships in Munich, Germany.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.