|Brian Leetch appeared in his last game as a Ranger on March 2, 2004. His career in New York spanned 16 full years, and he played in a team record 1,211 combined regular-season and playoff games. |
|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Official Hall of Fame Announcement ||Listen |
|Leetch Recalls Earliest Years in Hockey ||Watch |
|Vintage 1987 MSG Interview with Leetch ||Watch |
|No. 2 Addresses the Fans on Leetch Night ||Watch |
MORE ON THE HALL
• Official Press Release: Leetch Joins Hall
• Davidson to be Honored on Induction Weekend
MORE ON LEETCH
• Leetch's Draft Day in 1986 Remembered
• Forever a Ranger -- Leetch Tribute Section
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
When Brian Leetch’s cell phone rang on Tuesday morning and he recognized Toronto’s 416 area code, he had one immediate reaction.
Driving his car at the time of the call, Leetch pulled to the side of the road and fielded a call that informed him he had been elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. And the ever-stoic Leetch felt a sense of relief wash over him.
For so many years, even while in the midst of his stellar 18-year career in the National Hockey League, Leetch had been referred to as a “future Hall of Famer” with increasing regularity. Now three years after his retirement, Leetch was faced with the reality of either making it to the Hall on his first opportunity or not. And that had clearly made for an uneasy morning for the former smooth-skating Rangers great, especially with family and friends calling and texting non-stop looking for word from Leetch.
“I saw that area code from Toronto, and I had a big sigh of relief,” explained Leetch, who sat on the side of the road for 15 minutes after taking the call to absorb what had just taken place. “First I felt relief, then I can’t remember much after that!”
While to much of the hockey world it was a given that Leetch -- the pre-eminent offensive defenseman of his day -- was bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame, the humble superstar was not so sure.
“I am humbled and excited by this honor, particularly for me it is difficult to think of myself as a member of the Hall of Fame,” stated Leetch, who is joined by former players Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, and Steve Yzerman, and Devils President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello, in the 2009 Hall class.
“It’s a pretty overwhelming day to say the least,” added Leetch, who will be officially enshrined in Toronto on Nov. 9. “It’s something I am very humbled by and very proud of.”
Selected by the Rangers with the ninth overall selection in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, Leetch went on to become the club’s second all-time leading scorer with 981 points while playing in 1,129 games, second most in franchise history. Leetch also skated for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins before retiring in May of 2007 with a total of 1,028 points in 1,205 games played.
|The Rangers retired Leetch's No. 2 on Jan. 24, 2008, prior to a game against Atlanta at MSG. Leetch used the moment to announce that his friend and teammate Adam Graves would also have his number retired the following season. |
Leetch, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 1989, went on to be named to 11 NHL All-Star Games over the course of his career. He won the James Norris Trophy as the league’s most outstanding defenseman twice, in 1992 and 1997. During the 1991-92 campaign, he became only the fifth defenseman in league history to record 100 points in a season when he posted 22 goals and 80 assists for a career-high 102 points.
In the spring of 1994, Leetch helped the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years. Along the way he became the first U.S.-born player to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, notching a whopping 34 points in 23 games that post-season.
“It was no surprise because he was the catalyst of that Rangers team,” noted Lamoriello on Tuesday. “We could not contain him.”
Leetch’s selection to the Hall marks the third consecutive year that a member of the Rangers 1994 Cup-winning team has been so honored. Mark Messier was selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, and Glenn Anderson received the call in 2008.
To this day, of course, 1994 is still an extremely special year for New York sports fans. And Leetch understands why this is so.
“Unlike the (Red) Wings when Steve (Yzerman) was there or the Devils when Lou (Lamoriello) was there, this was our one shot at it,” explained Leetch. “We never got back to the Finals, we never won another Cup with that group. So it’s a single season that sticks out in a lot of people’s minds in the New York area.”
Along with being a top-flight NHL player, Leetch also starred on the international scene while representing the United States. Leetch, who becomes the first U.S.-born defenseman selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, played in three Olympics, one Canada Cup, and one World Cup, among other tournaments. He captained the U.S. squad to a Gold Medal at the 1996 World Cup and helped Team USA capture the Silver Medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Leetch was part of a talented group of star players that helped put the United States on the worldwide hockey map during the 1990’s, along with Mike Richter, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Chelios, and his 2009 HOF classmate Hull.
“Brett and I were part of a group old enough to remember 1980 and were spurred on to represent the United States,” said Leetch, referring to the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. squad that shockingly captured hockey gold at Lake Placid, N.Y.. “The NHL was actually second in my mind. I knew there were a bunch of college kids looking like they were having a lot of fun, and I wanted to have a chance at that.”
Including having played with Hull on several United States teams, Leetch had direct relationships during his career with three of the four other men selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Lamoriello was the head executive for many of the U.S. teams Leetch played for, and Robitaille was a Rangers teammate for two seasons.
|Although best known for his years with the Los Angeles Kings, Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille spent two seasons with the Rangers and was on the team that went to the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals. |
“Lucky”, as Robitaille was referred to throughout his 18-year National Hockey League career, played with Leetch and the Rangers during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. He amassed 47 goals and 117 points over 146 games with the Blueshirts. And in the spring of 1997, he helped the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Finals by recording 11 points in 15 post-season matches.
Over the course of his stellar career, the personable Robitaille scored 668 goals, 10th most in league history, and 1,394 points in 1,431 games. In 2002, Robitaille joined Hull and Yzerman in helping lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup title.
“My goal was always just to play in the NHL and I never dreamed of anything beyond that,” stated Robitaille. “To be honored in the same room as The Rocket, Guy Lafleur, and Wayne Gretzky is a tremendous honor.”
Robitaille added, “This is certainly a great group this year, numbers-wise it is amazing. And to go in with three of my teammates makes it very special.”
Leetch, who had his No. 2 sweater retired by the Rangers on Jan. 24, 2008, and then was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame later that same year, joins Robitaille as the 45th and 46th former Rangers players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
They will be joined at the Hall on Nov. 9 by former Rangers goaltender and broadcaster John Davidson, who earlier in the day will enter the Hall’s media wing as the 2009 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award winner for his career excellence in hockey broadcasting.