2007 Lester Patrick Trophy honorees Stan Fischler, John Halligan, Cammi Granato and Brian Leetch show off the hardware they were awarded on Wednesday.
Some of the biggest names in hockey gathered at the Sheraton New York hotel on Wednesday afternoon to honor this year's four winners of the Lester Patrick Trophy for service to hockey in the United States.
Three of the 2007 honorees, Brian Leetch, Stan Fischler and John Halligan, had direct connections to the Rangers organization, while the fourth, Cammi Granato has an older brother and husband who both played for the Blueshirts.
The event, produced by the National Hockey League and USA Hockey, is actually rooted in the Rangers organization, since the trophy honors the man who established the Blueshirts as an NHL force, and it was first presented by the Rangers as a tribute to the growth of hockey in the United States.
Wednesday's gathering had a definite Rangers feel and was a proud day for the Rangers. The team's banner hung directly behind the stage where the four honorees received their trophies, and just about every speech at the event referenced the Rangers and the impact they had on the lives of those receiving awards.
Leetch, Fischler, Halligan and Granato brought the total number of honorees to 109 since the award was first presented in 1966. Past winners also include the 1960 and 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey teams and the 1998 U.S. Olympic Women's Hockey Team, which was captained by Granato.
Halligan, a longtime Rangers team executive who later went on to spend two decades as communications director for the NHL, recalled the award's roots in his acceptance speech. He had the distinction of actually being in the room when former Rangers president and Hall of Famer William M. Jennings came up with the idea at a midtown restaurant.
On the day that Jennings hatched the award, Halligan was asked to help ensure the first presentation of the trophy would be reported widely in the press, and the large amount of local and national media on hand Wednesday was a testimony to how prestigious this event has become.
Broadcaster Mike Emrick, himself a former Lester Patrick winner, served as the event's emcee. He began the luncheon by noting the great debt those in his profession owe to Patrick, the Rangers' first coach and longtime president and general manager, because it was Patrick who first put numbers on hockey players' uniforms -- a trend that would eventually catch on in all team sports.
Emrick also took time to honor several other past winners on hand for Wednesday's presentation. This group included USA Hockey President Ron DiGregorio and NHL commisioner Gary Bettman, who both gave welcoming speeches, as well as USA Hockey legends Walter Bush, Art Berglund and Lou Vairo, longtime NHL executives Lou Nanne and Lou Lamoriello and former Rangers Rod Gilbert and John Davidson.
Each of this year's four honorees was introduced with a special tribute video created especially for the ceremony. The video chronicled their role in popularizing hockey in the U.S.
Fischler was honored for his many decades of writing about the game, both in the press and in the dozens of books he has published. His work as a broadcaster was also recognized, as he has covered all three New York area teams and is an expert on local hockey history.
"The Maven", as he is affectionately known, gave a rousing speech about what the award meant to him. He recalled being a young boy in Brooklyn and falling in love with Lester Patrick as both an author and the creator of his favorite hockey board game.
Fischler told many of his favorite hockey stories, including an encounter with Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall following Chicago's 1961 Stanley Cup triumph over Detroit in six games. Fischler says he asked Hall how he felt about the big win, and Hall simply responded: "I'm enthused" in a very matter-of-fact way. Fischler described his own experience of winning the Patrick Trophy as similar to Hall's excitement – only magnified 1,000 times.
The next to speak was Granato, who was recognized for her pioneering role in the growth of women's hockey, particularly on the international stage.
The younger sister of former Rangers forward Tony Granato, who still holds the team's rookie goal-scoring record, Cammi Granato talked about her childhood in suburban Chicago. She recalled her early love of hockey and her dream of one day playing for the Blackhawks. She also described the obstacles she encountered in helping establish the women's game, and credited her three older brothers for inspiring her.
Granato, whose husband, Ray Ferraro, also spent time with the Rangers before beginning his career as an NHL broadcaster, has hung up her skates and is now the mother of a 10-month-old boy, who was also at Wednesday's luncheon.
Still widely recognized as the best-known American women's player, she talked about the experience of watching her older brother Tony at the 1988 Olympics, where he was a teammate of Leetch. She said there was a moment during the opening ceremonies at Calgary that she became determined to one day play in the Olympics – a goal she realized when the sport became part of the Games in 1998.
Halligan followed Granato on the podium with a brief but touching speech that included his memories of the Lester Patrick Trophy's beginnings. In his tribute video, Halligan was referred to as the foremost historian of the New York Rangers -- an apt title for a man who lived through so much of that history and continues to draw on it as an author of several books, including one that commemorated the Rangers' 75th anniversary in 2001.
The final speaker was Leetch, who will be honored again on Jan. 24 at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers retire his number in a highly-anticipated pregame ceremony.
Leetch talked about his early roots in USA Hockey, fondly remembering what it was like to be invited to Colorado Springs for his first experience in the national program. At the time, high-level hockey players from Connecticut were rare, and he said the opportunity to see the top Canadian players in his age group, inspired him to focus on one day playing in the Olympics.
In addition to referencing his own Olympic odyssey, which included participating in the 1988 Games at Calgary, the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, and the 2002 Games at Salt Lake City, Leetch remembered the 1980 Olympics as another moment that captured his imagination and opened the door for many other American kids to believe they could one day play with the world's best.
Leetch also took time out to thank fellow recipients Halligan, for all the advice he received from him as a young player, and Fischler, for being one of his early boosters in the media. Leetch even thanked the entire Granato family for the support they showed during his
All four recipients received a standing ovation following their speeches, although in Leetch's case, the reception was nowhere near the decibel levels he can expect to hear on Jan. 24.
Indeed, although former teammates Mark Messier and Adam Graves were there on Wednesday to congratulate Leetch, the future Hall of Famer talked only briefly about his Rangers career, choosing instead to focus on his relationship to USA Hockey. He will no doubt have plenty of Rangers memories to share when he speaks at MSG on his jersey-retirement night.