Does anybody remember late summer of 1991 when the whole history of the Rangers began to change?
Here’s the most ridiculous thing about all of what went down: Everybody was wringing their hands over whether the Rangers were going to have to give up Troy Mallette or Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk as compensation for signing Adam Graves as a restricted free agent. And some people were wondering whether any of those might be too much to give up for a single-digit goal scorer like Graves!
Imagine. Of course, Mallette went to Edmonton (Rice and DeBrusk would go later in the Mark Messier trade) and all three would end up disappearing pretty quickly. Graves would score a team-record 52 goals in the Stanley Cup season and have his number retired and become the face of the franchise.
I’m being told that tonight’s ceremony will be really special, not only because it’s Graves, the favorite son. First, the Garden is getting pretty good at this, having had the farewell for Wayne Gretzky and then the number retirements of Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch. Second, unlike those other guys, Graves spends a lot of time working at the Garden in his community services and player development roles, so pretty much everyone in the building has a personal relationship with him, and so putting together the ceremony has become a labor of love.
Last night the four ’94 horsemen did a lot of reminiscing. Richter said that Graves has met every single Rangers fan, and “I believe they had a sleepover one time.” He also told a story about going past Graves’ locker on the way out of the Rangers old practice facility at Rye Playland. Richter and Messier noticed a huge box atop Graves’ locker, with only his name on it. Messier turned to Richter and said, “So that’s how he does it. He gets a box of ‘nice” delivered.”
Richter called Graves “an absolute force.” Messier repeated that, when he was at his peak, he’s not sure anybody played the full-package game that Graves did, and called him “a captain’s dream come true as a lieutenant.” Leetch said that Graves “was our foundation,” and told stories about how every time Leetch took a hit that was even remotely harder than normal, he could hear “Adam’s heavy skates” coming to the rescue. Leetch said that Matthew Barnaby, when he became a Ranger, told Leetch the same thing, that every time he tried to hit Leetch he could hear Graves coming.
Leetch added that Adam had become such an important player on the ice that Leetch had to say, “No, no, Adam” to keep him from avenging such hits, because he was too crucial to be spending time in the penalty box.
Graves, predictably, said he’s been feeling a weight on his shoulders since last year, when Leetch announced that No. 9 was going to the ceiling, and that the weight has only increased every day. He obviously isn’t comfortable being singled out. He is humbled, and he said, as he often has, that it was enough of a privilege for him to wear the uniform.
You can’t compare him to Billy Martin as a person, but I’m sure tonight will remind us of what Billy Martin said when the Yankees honored him. “I may not have been the best player to wear this uniform, but I am the proudest.”
EARLY AFTERNOON UPDATE:
A reminder, we will do a live video chat tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1 p.m. You can access it here, or by using this link:
The topic will be reviewing the Graves ceremony, but we can talk about the Rangers, too. Let’s please not make it a “Fire Renney” fest, OK?
I’ll come back later with some pregame stuff, and post-ceremony thoughts.