"Everybody will be celebrating not only Adam as a player and the Stanley Cup and (52) goals and the cuts on his face and the fights and all that. But they'll actually be celebrating the man and what he meant to the community."
-- Brian Leetch
' teammates remember him as much for his character and community work as for his play on the ice during his tenure with the New York Rangers
Goalie Mike Richter
, center Mark Messier
and defenseman Brian Leetch
, all of whom have had their numbers retired, gathered again Monday at Madison Square Garden to pay tribute to Graves, the first-line left winger of the 1994 Stanley Cup team, the day before his No. 9 was to be retired.
All three cited the fact that Graves also won the King Clancy
Memorial Trophy that season for being "the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community."
"Everybody will be celebrating not only Adam as a player and the Stanley Cup and (52) goals and the cuts on his face and the fights and all that. But they'll actually be celebrating the man and what he meant to the community," Leetch said. "I find that to be a really unique situation."
Leetch actually called for this ceremony to be held during his own retirement ceremony last season. In the middle of his acceptance speech, Leetch said it would be necessary to recognize Graves as one of the important leaders of that team. He remembers Graves becoming emotional when he did that. He was asked to recall Graves' reaction that night.
"Confusion ... I found out later, everybody at center ice, all the speakers (were facing toward the outside), he understood his name was being talked about and he had a bit of an idea what I was saying but couldn't hear verbatim and he saw me looking at him ... that's when I started to go toward him and I could see his eyes well up a little bit but, of course, he caught himself and said, 'It's your night,'" Leetch said.
"He was just our foundation," Leetch said. "We always looked to Mark as our leader, and Mike was our most important player being the goalie, but (Adam) was our foundation. He was our heart and soul."
All three also talked about Graves' tireless work in the community, whether it was helping a charity fundraiser or visiting sick children or representing the
Rangers any time he was asked. Richter said Graves was sometimes late for meetings and practices because he got held up talking to fans.
"As for the fans," Richter said, "I think he met every single one of them personally. I think they had a sleepover once."
Richter said most of Graves' teammates couldn't understand how someone could be so perpetually upbeat and willing to give of his time. It took time for them to realize he was as genuine as he appeared to be.
Richter recalled that one morning after practice at the Rangers' old facility in Rye, N.Y., Messier looked above Graves' locker and saw a package that had been delivered that morning and cracked, "That's how Adam does it. He gets a box of nice delivered every day.
"He was like that, whether his back was hurting or he was going through good times or bad, he had a tremendous perspective on how lucky he was to be playing the game. That rubbed off on other people. I think he helped us be more respectful of our places in professional hockey because he seemed to be able to write the book on it."
Messier said Graves reflected his upbringing and was very close to his family. His parents took in more than 40 foster children while he was growing up and made him deliver newspapers every morning so that he would understand the value of work and money. Those things helped develop what hockey players call a "character player."
"There was never a doubt that he was the right person to bring in here, just because he was so good in the locker room and he worked so hard," Richter said. "Very self-effacing and all that. ...There were high expectations for him, coming in, and he fulfilled them."
"Adam really has such a special place in the fans' hearts, rightfully so, and in the players' hearts. He's one of the best guys you'll come across in sports. There's no one that played with him who is uncomfortable calling him a friend." -- Brian Leetch
You can always tell a kid's character by the relationship he has with his parents, or how he treats his parents," Messier said. "It was obvious he was very close to his mother and father and family. ... He had a very close relationship with his father, always there for him in good times and bad."
The three players mostly focused on Graves' character in their remarks so Richter made sure people understood that Graves is also being honored for his on-ice contributions to the Rangers.
"If he wanted to change a game, either physically or by scoring, he could do that," Richter said.
Graves becomes the last of the four leaders of that 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team to have his number retired. His impact on the Rangers was felt in many domains, on the ice, in the dressing room, for charities, with kids and with the fans.
"Adam really has such a special place in the fans' hearts, rightfully so, and in the players' hearts," Leetch said. "He's one of the best guys you'll come across in sports. There's no one that played with him who is uncomfortable calling him a friend."