|RANGERS ON DEMAND -- LEETCH CEREMONY
|Gilbert, Giacomin, Richter, Messier Intros ||Watch |
|Messier Pays Tribute to Leetch ||Watch |
|Leetch's Speech ||Watch |
|Leetch Gives Graves a Special Surprise ||Watch |
|No. 2 Banner Goes to Rafters ||Watch |
|Post-Ceremony Leetch Interview ||Watch |
|Messier In-Studio Interview ||Watch |
|Messages from Former Teammates ||Watch |
|Graves, Beukeboom on Leetch ||Watch |
|Leetch Press Conference ||Watch |
|Graves Press Conference ||Watch |
|Brian Leetch was truly humble as he spoke during his night, thanking all the people who helped him achieve success. |
For many months, the Rangers organization and Rangers fans everywhere had looked forward to the night of Jan. 24 and the opportunity to honor Brian Leetch, one of the greatest players in Blueshirts history.
By the end of Thursday night's roughly 45-minute ceremony, there was no doubt that the Brian Leetch Night event at Madison Square Garden, presented by American Express, had lived up to its billing. And there was also great anticipation of a similar gathering next season, thanks to a surprise announcement made by Leetch himself.
In classic Brian Leetch fashion, the man who played 16 seasons in New York and helped deliver the Rangers' first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years, chose his own ceremony to publicize the Rangers organization's decision to honor one of his former teammates, No. 9 Adam Graves.
The stunning announcement that Graves will join Leetch, Mark Messier, Mike Richter, Ed Giacomin and Rod Gilbert in The Garden rafters next season was one of many highlights on Thursday – an evening that will live in the memory of all who were fortunate enough to see it unfold.
Hosted by Rangers television announcer Sam Rosen and featuring Messier's introduction of Leetch as the main speaker, the ceremony was jam-packed with emotion, and the Graves announcement caught everyone including Graves himself by surprise.
Fans in the arena stood throughout the event, which began at 6:35 p.m., just under 90 minutes before the Rangers were due to take the ice against the Atlanta Thrashers for their final game before the NHL All-Star break.
Brian Leetch Night at MSG -- Jan. 24, 2008
The grip of anticipation filled the arena almost from the moment Rosen appeared to introduce the ceremony and stated that the Rangers family was about to "honor one of the best defensemen to ever play the game". Noting that Messier himself had once called Leetch the greatest Ranger ever, Rosen set the mood of the ceremony as a homecoming for a player who spent all but one of his NHL seasons with the Blueshirts.
Rosen's opening remarks were followed by a tribute video, showcasing many of Leetch's career highlights, including his remarkable performance in the Rangers' run to the 1994 Stanley Cup championship. As the video played, all four of Leetch's major NHL Trophies were carried across a red carpet to the 7th Avenue side of the rink, including the Calder Trophy for his Rookie of the Year performance in 1988-89, the Norris Trophy, which he won in both 1991-92 and 1996-97, and the Conn Smythe Trophy he earned as MVP of the 1994 playoffs.
The final trophy to emerge was the Stanley Cup itself, which was placed on a table near the Leetch No. 2 banner that was set to be raised to the rafters.
|Brian Leetch and family members watch his No. 2 banner ascend to the Madison Square Garden rafters. |
With the trophies in place, Gardenvision cut to an image of Leetch in the Rangers locker room, sharing a moment with the current Blueshirts. As the crowd roared in the arena, Leetch began the walk from the locker room to the ice, a walk he made hundreds of times during his Rangers career from 1988 to 2004.
As he approached the podium at center ice to greet Rosen, Leetch received a long standing ovation from the crowd, featuring the same booming chants of "Bri-an Leetch! Bri-an Leetch!" that he often heard during his playing days.
Rosen then turned to Leetch and thanked the legendary defenseman on behalf of the entire Rangers family before ushering in some of Leetch's former teammates.
Taking part in the ceremony were Brian Mullen, Leetch's first NHL roommate, Ron Greschner, who was a key mentor to Leetch in the early part of his career, close friend Jan Erixon, who had come in from Sweden and former defense partner Jeff Beukeboom.
Entering the ceremony after Beukeboom was fellow 1994 teammate Graves, who played more games as a Rangers teammate of Leetch's than any other player. Graves was followed by two of the greatest Rangers defensemen that predated Leetch -- Hall of Famers Harry Howell and Brad Park, who had also worn the No. 2 for the Blueshirts.
The next group to join Leetch at center ice were the four other men whose jerseys have been retired by the organization – Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin, Mike Richter and Mark Messier. Their entrance was followed by the appearance of the Leetch family, including Brian's parents, wife and three young children.
With everyone assembled on the ice, it was time to present Leetch with his gift from the Rangers. Leetch, a
motorcycle enthusiast was caught by surprise when former teammates Tie Domi and Darren Langdon came out on an ATV with a customized Harley-Davidson motorcycle trailing behind them. They removed their leather jackets to reveal their white Rangers jerseys, sending the crowd into a frenzy for the two former fan favorites.
As part of Leetch's gift, the Rangers also made a $25,000 donation to the John J. Murray Foundation, which was created in memory of Leetch's longtime friend who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The check was presented to members of the Murray family.
Prior to Messier's introductory speech, the 2007-08 Rangers players then came out to the home team's bench amid rousing chants of "Let's Go Rangers". With everyone assembled in the arena, Messier took the podium and thanked all in attendance, particularly Leetch's family members who had meant so much to his former teammate's career.
An emotional Messier, on the verge of tears, then spoke of Leetch as a person for whom words "just don't do justice." He noted that Leetch had meant the world to both the people he played with and the Rangers fans.
"Brian is the benchmark of what it means to be a Ranger," said Messier. "(Years from now) … They're going to point to Brian Leetch and say 'That's what we want as a New York Rangers.'"
Referring to Leetch yet again as the "greatest Ranger ever", Messier went on to mention his personal friendship with his 10-year teammate, saying "I can't say enough about what he meant to me as a friend and a player."
Rosen then introduced Leetch, who greeted the crowd warmly and humbly, saying he wasn't sure if he would ever hear such cheers again once he retired.
"This is an amazing event, and I thank everyone for being a part of this," Leetch said. "I am honored to be here tonight."
Leetch then went on to thank the Rangers staff, his friend and agent, Jay Grossman, and even the Atlanta players for tolerating the pregame delay for his ceremony. He congratulated the current Rangers, and then looked back to his earliest years with the team, thanking former general manager Craig Patrick for drafting him in the first round in 1986. He credited Patrick and other early teammates for their role in shaping his career.
|Brian Leetch congratulates Adam Graves after announcing that Graves' No. 9 will be retired during the 2008-09 season. |
"I was lucky to have quality people around me," Leetch said.
Admitting he was a bit nervous, Leetch then read from his own letter to the fans, printed in the Forever a Ranger Leetch tribute book. This enabled him to thank many people, including his former teammates and family members. He also tipped his cap to 82 years of Blueshirts history.
"I've always considered it a privilege to play for the Rangers organization," he said.
After thanking former general manager Neil Smith, who like Patrick was also in attendance, Leetch went on to speak of his 1994 Stanley Cup championship teammates.
"We'll always share a part in this Garden, represented by that championship banner that hangs from the rafters," Leetch said.
He mentioned former teammates Beukeboom, Graves and Richter, and then brought the house down with his special announcement that the Rangers would retire Graves' No. 9 next season. That stunning bit of news was followed by Leetch's thanks to Messier, as he noted that Messier's "passion for the game of hockey and city of New York was inspiring."
Leetch finally thanked the city and the fans.
"I've loved living in Manhattan and calling it home for 19 years," said Leetch. "I have been honored to skate on this ice at Madison Square Garden before the most loyal and passionate fans in the world."
Leetch talked about how The Garden can "shake" at times, recalling everything from Denis Potvin's final Rangers-Islanders game at MSG to Wayne Gretzky's final NHL game, to the first Opening Night after the Sept. 11 tragedy, to the Stanley Cup victory on June 14, 1994.
He closed his remarks by recalling the only time he played at MSG as a visitor – in March 2006 with the Boston Bruins and saluted the fans for their undying loyalty at that time.
"You made sure you knew I was home, and I thank you for that," Leetch said.
After concluding his remarks, Leetch and his family members walked down a red carpet to the 7th Ave. side of the building to watch the No. 2 banner unfurl and rise to the rafters. With camera flash bulbs popping everywhere in the darkened arena, Leetch held his youngest son, Sean, in his left arm and gazed at the spotlighted banner.
As the crowd roared in that moment when the banner paused halfway up its journey to the ceiling, it was abundantly clear that Leetch truly will be "forever a Ranger."