- Did you know that when Brian Leetch first showed up to join the Rangers as a teenager, his teammates—I think Ron Greschner might have been behind it—nicknamed him “Norm” after the Cheers character? I think it was because he had a fat little face when he was young. But that chubby mug turned into one of the most fit, aerobic, durable athletes in any sport ever.
* When Leetch signed his first big contract, it was soon followed by the arrival of Mark Messier and his own heftier contract. Somebody asked Leetch if he was going to ask to renegotiate. Leetch didn’t think that was a joke. But he answered: “I would really have to mess up for this (contract) not to be enough.”
- Does anybody remember the late-1980s end-to-end rush against the Flyers (not the one they showed during the induction ceremony)? He went through every one of them once, and one of them twice, before scoring on Ron Hextall. The last guy he faked out of his skates was a kid named Mark Freer. John Vanbiesbrouck said, “That kid must have thought he was in a Michael Jackson video.” (I can’t believe I wrote Vanbiesbrouck’s name in three different posts the last 24 hours).
- The other goal I’ll never forget is the one he scored against the Devils in Game 7 in ‘94, the spin move on Bill Guerin and the shot past Martin Brodeur. But it was the stop and spin, and the noise that Leetch’s skates used to make when he made that hard stop or hard spin, that stands out in my memory.
- Perhaps his greatest assist was the one in Vancouver during the Stanley Cup final, when he came through the middle. His shoulder was wrecked by then, frozen by the trainers and doctors about every game. He came across the blue line and two Canucks—and, boy did they target him for punishment—hacked him on the way in. Leetch still made the play and sent Alexei Kovalev in for a huge goal, breaking a 2-2 tie with under five minutes left in Game 4. He was slashed so hard, and because his shoulder was so bad, Leetch couldn’t raise either arm to celebrate the goal. By the way, he had a goal and three assists in that game, and pulled down Pavel Bure for a penalty shot that you might recall.
- There are so many memories. Some of them, I have no idea why they come to the forefront. But one is Phil Esposito—I don’t know why or how, if he was disillusioned of if he’d had a a couple of drinks or if he was just lying—claimed he drafted Leetch. It was Craig Patrick who drafted Leetch, of course.
*Nobody, nobody, nobody ever kept the puck in at the point like Leetch. Did I say nobody?
- On a personal note, when I wrote my book about Mark Messier, I asked Brian to write the foreword. I told him that I couldn’t possibly pay him to do it, and my publisher was way too cheap to pay him. Not only did he say he would do it, but he did a great job, and on the day we did it he first treated me to a round of golf with him at his club, and lunch at a nice restaurant.
I could go on for hours. Adam Graves is the nicest person I’ve ever met in sports. But Brian is probably the player I know best, from the moment he arrived to now, and probably my favorite Ranger ever.
I owe the Rangers an apology. I always get on them for their supersecrecy regarding injuries … and I must have missed it Monday, but they did indeed announce that Dubinsky has a broken hand. Sorry. My bad.
Still hoping to get to the game Thursday, but not guaranteed.