NEW YORK -This tribute wasn’t about really about hockey. It wasn’t about a player either.
This tribute was about a person.
It was fitting that Adam Graves night began with the guest of honor walking through the fifth floor halls of the Garden, greeting the many sick and underprivileged children he met over the years. True to form, this seemed like his favorite moment of the night, because when the spotlight shined on him, Graves became humbled.
“Since last year, when Brian [Leetch] was so kind to take time out of his night,” Graves said as he began his speech. “I felt a weight fall on my shoulders and that weight has only increased over the past year.”
Of course, he got through with the ceremony, but had to be pushed out by his teammates as he tried to walk off the Garden ice with the other three immortals from the 1994 team. Graves never wanted this night, and never wanted to be the center of attention. Even in his post-ceremony press conference, No. 9 only seemed comfortable when speaking about Andy Bathgate, the other No. 9 who will be raised to the rafters later this month.
“For me to be honored amongst them is humbling and to understand the history of our great franchise,” Graves said. “And to one of the great, great No 9s to play, Andy Bathgate. I respect this game and I appreciate the honor of sharing the number with him.”
The capacity crowd of 18,200 also appreciated what Graves brought to the club. Sure, it could be argued that Graves didn’t deserve this honor based on his numbers on the ice. But the Rangers got this right. A franchise should honor the person for what they brought to table. Too many times we have seen fans turn the other cheek for negative transgressions. Yankee fans were quick to forgive Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte. In Queens, Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were cheered on the last day at Shea. And if Plaxico Burress ever plays again, his hometown fans will stand up and applaud.
But the good deeds never really get the recognition they deserve. Graves’s work off the ice far exceeded his superior play on the ice. And that’s why the Rangers went all out last night for one of the good guys of the game.
They made the night about the man. Instead of a gaudy present – which usually gets left up at the MSG Training Center – Graves got a guitar signed by Bruce Springsteen. The cast of his favorite show – The Sopranos – also made a visit. And of course, his Ranger teammates were there to honor him.
It couldn’t have been scripted better. Mark Messier delivered a speech, during which he broke down twice. Mike Richter and Leetch were of course there, as were teammates from over the years.
And even the current Rangers got involved. Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund skated out the banner to get raised to the top of the Garden.
“I’m glad we were here,” Drury said. “It was great to see all of the guys, the guys from the ’94 team, his mates, his buddies that were there and the other guys who had their numbers retied.”
Graves especially appreciated the crowd. During his speech he mentioned the end of the “1940” chant in 1994, which followed by the “Potvin” chant from the blue seats. It allowed the man a chance to stop and laugh, just like one of the guys.
That’s all Graves wanted to be. Although he had some great seasons, he acknowledged that he was just a cog in the wheel and one fortunate to have teammates like Messier, Leetch, and Richter.
So it’s truly fitting No. 9 will sit there next to those numbers for eternity. And while they call Messier the captain, Leetch the greatest Ranger, and Richter the great goalie, Graves will be remembered as the great teammate.
But even a better man.