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Leetch becomes fifth Ranger to have number retired

1/25/2008 - NHL Brian Leetch New York Rangers + more

NEW YORK -- Only at Madison Square Garden does No. 2 fit so
perfectly between 11 and 35.

It happened Thursday night when the New York Rangers retired
Brian Leetch's famous number. They raised a banner next to those of
Mark Messier and Mike Richter, the stellar defenseman's teammates
on the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team that ended 54 years of
waiting.

"I have felt this building shake, starting in the blue seats
and filling this arena," Leetch said during the 51-minute ceremony
before the Rangers' 2-1 shootout victory over the Atlanta
Thrashers.

Then the 11-time All-Star, who was the NHL rookie of the year,
twice the league's top defenseman, and the MVP of the 1994 playoffs
rocked the house again.

Always one to deflect praise and attention away from himself,
Leetch stunned the packed arena by announcing a secret he held that
the Rangers will retire the No. 9 of longtime teammate and ultimate
fan favorite Adam Graves, who stood a few steps away at center ice.

"I said, 'If you want me to do it, I'd love to it,"' Leetch
recalled.

No one played more games as Leetch's teammate than Graves, who
suited up 690 times. He didn't put up Hall of Fame numbers in the
way Leetch, Messier and Richter did, but Graves' humanitarian side
and passion for the game always resonated with the adoring public.

Messier, who had already begun to cry in introducing Leetch,
shed more happy tears for Graves, his teammate in Edmonton and New
York.

"The only thought that came to my mind was how humble I felt,"
Graves said. "Wearing that jersey was gift enough. Having this
opportunity, I'm lucky."

It was an honor that many figured would never come for Graves,
who saw Pavel Bure wear the No. 9 after his departure from the
Rangers. Graves' ceremony will be held next season.

"That kind of made me calm because I knew I had that to come
and it was going to be exciting," Leetch said. "I knew Adam was
going to be blown away."

Leetch clapped and smiled widely as his teammate and close
friend was feted on his night, clearly thrilled that he could even
upstage himself.

"I was foggy. I had no idea," Graves said. "It caught me off
guard and I was like, 'Go back there, it's your night."'

Leetch is second in Rangers history with 1,129 games played in
17 seasons from 1988-2004, first with 741 assists, second with 981
points, and first among defensemen with 240 goals and 981 points.

He clutched his 2-year-old son, Sean, in his arms as the banner
was raised over the goal on the east side of the rink, beside
tables holding the Stanley Cup, and the Calder and Norris Trophies
that Leetch won.

Always in control, Leetch never really came close to tears. He
left that to Messier, who has become almost as famous for his weepy
speeches as he is for bold victory guarantees.

"I had a lot of advice from friends who said, 'If you start
forgetting what you want to say, just start crying. Just break down
and everyone will feel bad and you can just cover up,"' Leetch
said.

When Messier got choked up in lauding Leetch, calling him "the
greatest Ranger ever," one fan yelled in the otherwise silent
building "There it is."

The longtime captain, who played 610 games with Leetch in two
Rangers stints, didn't mind a bit. He was the only speaker, other
than master of ceremonies Sam Rosen, and when he finished talking
he took his place alongside Richter, and fellow Hockey Hall of
Famers Eddie Giacomin, and Rod Gilbert -- the only other Rangers to
have their numbers retired.

That select group wore blue jerseys while several other former
Rangers made a semicircle at center ice dressed in white sweaters.
When the current team filled the bench during the ceremony, the
players sported the No. 2 on their left shoulders.

Leetch's rugged former teammates Tie Domi and Darren Langdon
rode along the ice on an Army ATV that pulled a gifted Harley
Davidson motorcycle. Richter presented Leetch with a $25,000 check,
on behalf of the Rangers organization, for the John J. Murray
Foundation -- founded in 2002 in memory of Leetch's close friend,
who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York.

Craig Patrick, the New York general manager who selected Leetch
with the ninth pick of the 1986 draft, sat in the stands as did
Neil Smith -- the GM of the 1994 title team.

Leetch's No. 2 has been painted behind each net for several
weeks during the buildup for this event that was announced before
the season.

Before Leetch took the ice, he stopped into the Rangers dressing
room as this season's occupants stood and clapped. Leetch shook
hands with Brendan Shanahan and saw his former stall, just to the
right, filled with his familiar blue jersey.

"I was not that nervous, not that scared of what I was going to
say," Leetch said. "I was just really enjoying it and I was not
sure I was going to be able to do that."

Cheers and chants following Leetch as the big video board over
center ice showed his stroll to the ice through corridors that lead
from the dressing room.

The fans begged for "one more year" but that wish didn't come.
Instead they enjoyed one more night with No. 2.