This Sunday, Oct. 27, Madison Square Garden will be the site of a historic hockey doubleheader, featuring the Rangers and the Bruins of the past and the present. The afternoon kicks off with the Rangers Alumni Classic, featuring legends of the two Original Six rivals, including the Rangers' Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Adam Graves, and Boston's Ray Bourque and Rick Middleton, any many more. In the nightcap, the current Rangers and Bruins face off in their first meeting of their 93rd season as NHL rivals.
Tickets for the Rangers Alumni Classic begin at $20, and proceeds support the New York Rangers Assist Program, dedicated to growing Youth Hockey, and access to it for everyone, in the Tri-State Area. For tickets, rosters and more information, please visit newyorkrangers.com/alumniclassic
When the Rangers and Bruins alumni come together on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in a game that includes seven members of the 1994 Stanley Cup Champions skating on Garden ice again, technically it is true that, yeah, okay, Brian Leetch is eligible to fall into either of the two camps. In reality, though, there is only one.
"Even when I'm in Boston, if I'm walking around or if I meet someone they might say, 'Oh yeah, you played for the Rangers, right?'" Leetch said in a recent chat with NYRangers.com. "Sometimes I want to ask, 'You know I played for the Bruins too, right?' But I'm okay with that - 'Yes, that's me. I played for the Rangers.'"
On Sunday afternoon, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves and Mike Richter will be skating together again on Garden ice, playing a game for the Rangers underneath the banners that bear their numbers and on the ice where they carried the Stanley Cup around, to be joined by their 1994 championship teammates Jeff Beukeboom, Stephane Matteau, Glenn Anderson and Jay Wells, among many other Blueshirt greats.
Leetch came to the NHL out of Boston College, and finished his career with one season as a Bruin; in between, he played more times for the Rangers in the regular season and playoffs than anybody ever, 1,211 games altogether. On Sunday No. 2 will put on the Blueshirt once again, unofficially this time, for fun and a good cause, in the Rangers Alumni Classic at the Garden, Blueshirts vs. B's, in support of Youth Hockey in the Tri-State Area through the New York Rangers Assist Program.
Leetch is one of seven Hockey Hall of Famers scheduled to take part in the game, which faces off at 1 p.m. and is the opening act to the 650th regular-season meeting between the Rangers and Bruins at 7 o'clock.
And actually, Leetch & Co. will get two chances to put on the Blueshirt this weekend: Sunday's game is the back end of an alumni home-and-home. The two sides had a game scheduled Saturday in Waltham, Mass., hosted by the Bruins alums and benefitting the Warrior for Life Fund.
Sunday will the Rangers' home game, and Leetch said: "We have to win at MSG. Hopefully they're good games, close games, just as long as we win at the Garden."
While the Alumni Classic is rich with hockey greats, it is an absolute defenseman's dream: Three Hall of Fame blueliners will be taking part, with seven Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe represented on the ice by two players alone: Leetch and the Bruins' Ray Bourque, two of the great blueliners in the sport's history and both members of the NHL's 100 Greatest Players list. Brad Park, who played on both sides of this rivalry and will be on the Rangers' bench on Sunday, is on that 100 Greatest list himself.
Bourque had his rookie season when Leetch was still in middle school in Connecticut; after prep school at Avon Old Farms, Leetch went to follow in his dad's footsteps and play at Boston College for the 1986-87 season - by that time he had already been a first-round Draft pick of the Rangers, while Bourque was establishing himself as one of the League's premier players.
"I watched Ray Bourque. I was playing as a defenseman and I watched his style of play, playing half the game and everything," Leetch said. "In a few of the All-Star Games he'd go out of his way to come sit next to me and talk to me. He'd seen quotes that I looked up to him in high school and everything, and so he went out of his way there."
Of the 649 regular-season games between the Rangers and Bruins, Leetch played for the Blueshirts in 55 of them, and scored 53 points. Growing up in Connecticut, he was in a place in between New York and Boston that television didn't consider the local market of either team. In fact when his draft year came up in 1986, Leetch figured the Hartford Whalers, picking 11th, as a logical landing spot for a local kid, though the Rangers made it a moot point when they grabbed him at No. 9.
Four picks after Leetch, his childhood friend and BC teammate Craig Janney went to the Bruins at No. 13. Those two buddies suited up on opposite sides of their first Rangers-Bruins game on Nov. 11, 1988, at Madison Square Garden.
"It was two Original Six teams, and a big deal for a lot of guys who grew up seeing Orr and Esposito and Rod Gilbert, and Brad Park going back and forth, and Espo going back and forth, and just seeing those Original Six teams growing up," Leetch said. "To be a part of that, to be wearing the Ranger sweater, and seeing the spoked B that you're going against, that was a very special thing.
"You'd get into the old Boston Garden where everything was right on top of you, and their team, their fans were right on top of you. And the smoke was hanging up top just like the old Montreal Forum. It was fun for me, a New England kid and a Connecticut kid, and the roots that my dad had there. So to be part of that, to be representing the Rangers and playing against the Bruins was always a thrill for me."
Leetch's father, Jack, was an All-American at Boston College in the 1960s, and there would be regular family trips to up to Chestnut Hill for BC games, and to Boston Garden for the occasional Beanpot. Once Brian joined the Rangers and began building a career as one of the top two-way defensemen in the sport's history, you might expect a player of his capabilities would no longer relish his visits to the Bruins' old rink and its dingy ice and cramped playing surface. On the contrary, Leetch said.
"If you could just avoid getting killed in the corner, you got the puck a lot more," Leetch said. "I got the puck a lot and I got a lot of opportunities there, so for me it was fun. But you had to be ready. It was just like the old Chicago Stadium, because the rinks were smaller and their teams a lot of times were built around the rink, around the smaller ice surface. So they had big wingers that would dump it in and try and crash, then have their skill guys take advantage of special teams and so forth.
"You were ready when you went there. But it was a lot of fun because there was a lot of opportunity to carry the puck."
He figures to have ample opportunity to carry the puck on Sunday afternoon. He'll be defending in front of Richter again, attacking the net with Graves. His coaches - Ranger legends themselves - just might pair him up with Beukeboom like old times. Brian Leetch will be skating for the Rangers at the Garden again on Sunday, on the rink where he took hold of the Conn Smythe and the Cup, wearing the only sweater that fits him right.