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"It's an incredible night.' Rangers Legends Reflect on Jersey Ceremonies

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Mike Richter said while he understood the magnitude of getting his No. 35 retired by the Rangers, the honor of that night back in February 2004 has only increased over the last 14 years.

"It's an incredible night and nobody puts on a better show and show of respect than the Rangers in this regard," Richter said. "I didn't know how special it was at the time and it's now years later that you recognize how important that moment was.

"I think when you're a player, you just think from one game to the next, from one practice to the next and when it's all over, you so go 'oh, I'll think about [my career] then,' but that goes quick," Richter said. "To have your jersey retired and being part of The Garden of all places, it's like your permanent home having your jersey up there."

Richter became just the third player in franchise history to have his number retired when his jersey was raised on Feb. 4, 2004, joining legends Rod Gilbert and Eddie Giacomin.

For Brian Leetch, the significance of what it meant to have a number immortalized by the Rangers was felt early. Leetch was nearing the end of his first full season in the NHL, on his way to capturing the Calder Trophy for the League's top rookie when he had a front row seat to watch Giacomin join Gilbert in Rangers immortality.

The experience of that night, coupled with a relationship with Gilbert, gave Leetch an early understanding of the franchise's lineage.

"I was lucky enough to be playing when Eddie Giacomin had his jersey retired and got to see everything that went on," Leetch said. "Rod Gilbert was around our team when I was young and was such a great person and still is to all of us. As a young guy looking up to see his banner, the only one up there [at the time], and him being so friendly was big."

Leetch had the unique experience of announcing that Adam Graves would be the next player to be honored by the organization during his ceremony on Jan. 24, 2008, which would take place the following season.

For Leetch, the chance to make that announcement to his friend and teammate still resonates with him.

"To be at the other ones and luckily the night of mine that the Rangers gave me the honor of announcing Adam's, so that was really cool," he said. "We went through a lot together, and to take part in it with our family and friends was terrific."

Possibly no Ranger embraced the team's history more than Mark Messier, who upon arrival in New York for the 1991-92 season turned his focus to making history of his own, and ultimately did when he, Leetch, Richter and the rest of the 1993-94 team captured the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

While he was immortal among Rangers fans prior to it becoming official with his banner raising ceremony on Jan. 12, 2006, Messier said watching his No. 11 sent to the rafters was an overwhelming experience.

"I think anybody that gets a night like that is just overcome with emotion and gratitude," he said, "for the opportunity I was given and [the others with their numbers retired] were given to not only play in the League but to play for the Rangers in front of a fanbase that is second-to-none. To go along with all the history - it's overwhelming to be standing in the middle of the ice and being recognized like that is just completely humbling and overwhelming."

Messier, Leetch, Richter and many more legendary Rangers will come together again on Sunday to honor Hall of Famer Jean Ratelle, who will have his No. 19 become the ninth sweater retired by the team. For Richter, coming back again is another chance for him and other former Blueshirts to show respect for those who made the organization what it is today.

"It means so much to the players," he said. "That's it. You don't get a chance to skate on the ice anymore, but to be recognized and be part of the fabric of this storied tradition is a pretty big deal."  

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