|Adam Graves hits the ice as he watches his 51st goal of the season elude Oilers goalie Bill Ranford on March 23, 1994. |
For a player who prided himself on team-first accomplishments and always downplayed his personal achievements, March 23, 1994, stands as a very intriguing date in Adam Graves’ tenure with the Rangers.
It was the day when Graves scored a pair of goals in a match against the Edmonton Oilers to surpass Vic Hadfield’s long-standing Rangers single-season record for most goals scored. The ultimate team player now held one of the most prestigious individual honors in franchise history.
Hadfield became the first Rangers player ever to score 50 goals in a season back in 1971-72. Over the following years, snipers Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Phil Esposito, Ron Duguay, Steve Vickers, Pat Hickey, Walt Podubny, Tomas Sandstrom, Pierre Larouche, John Ogrodnick, and Mike Gartner all scored at least 40 goals in a season for the Rangers and challenged Hadfield’s team record. Gartner, who scored 40-plus goals three times with the Rangers, came the closest to catching Hadfield when he notched 49 goals during the 1990-91 campaign.
For the most part, the players who challenged Hadfield’s 50-goal season were slick goal-scorers, snipers who had reputations as big-time offensive players. Ironically, the player who would finally break Hadfield’s mark was known more for his hard work and all-around play then for his deft scoring touch, even though Graves did score a career-best 36 goals the year before during the 1992-93 season.
“I was never about anything fancy,” says Graves modestly. “Mine was a very simple game. Go to the net, win one-on-one battles. My goals were never the most pretty.”
Whether he thought his goals were pretty or not, Graves was scoring them at an impressive rate during the magical season of 1993-94. Playing on the left side of Mark Messier throughout the year -- with, usually, veteran Steve Larmer or talented second-year pro Alexei Kovalev on the right wing -- the consistent Graves scored goals in four consecutive contests on three different occasions during the season.
Graves notched 11 multiple-goal games in 1993-94, including a hat trick on Feb. 2 against the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.
His final multiple-goal outing of the year ended up being one for the Rangers’ record books. Heading into the club’s 74th contest of the season, Graves was sitting on 49 goals, after having scored two in his previous three games. The opponent in Game No. 74, coincidentally, would be Graves’ former team, the Oilers, and the game was to be played at Northlands Coliseum.
On the same night in another city, Wayne Gretzky would make NHL history by passing Gordie Howe’s all-time NHL mark of 801 goals scored. The crowd in Edmonton gave a standing ovation for Gretzky, the former Oiler, when the news was flashed on the scoreboard. Graves’ standing ovation was soon to follow.
In the latter stages of the first period, Messier and Graves broke up ice, taking off on a 2-on-1 towards the Edmonton goal. Messier carried the puck on right wing and waited for the perfect moment to saucer a soft backhanded pass to Graves, who was flying down the slot. Graves roofed a one-timer under the crossbar at 14:32 of the first to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead, and just as importantly to notch his 50th goal of the season, tying Hadfield’s team record.
“That play was all Mess, just like so many of my goals were that season,” Graves says in complimenting his mentor, friend, and linemate Messier. “He just made it so easy for me.”
Now that he had equaled the franchise record for most goals in a season, it wouldn’t take Graves much longer to establish the new mark.
Less than three minutes after scoring his 50th, Graves had No. 51. Battling just outside the goal crease, Graves collected a rebound and sailed an off-balance shot again just under the crossbar at 17:26 of the first period to gain sole possession of the Rangers’ single-season goal-scoring record.
The Rangers’ had asked for -- and received -- permission from the National Hockey League’s executive office to be able to clear their bench to celebrate Graves’ accomplishment, and the players did just that when Graves thrust his arms straight up the air after scoring No. 51. The classy fans in Edmonton saluted the great moment achieved by one of their former players, adding to the extremely special moment.
“I vividly remember how supportive my teammates were of me, and how much they wanted me to break the record,” recalls Graves. “Mark (Messier) was the greatest example of that. He elevated his game to help other players -- like me -- to key moments. He took more pleasure in helping someone else have a great experience than he did in his own accomplishments.”
Graves would go on to score one more goal during the 1993-94 campaign, finishing with a club record 52 goals. It is a mark that stood for twelve years until Jaromir Jagr scored 54 goals in 2005-06.