The New York Rangers retired the jersey of fan favorite and community leader Adam Graves Tuesday night. Graves scored 329 goals in his career, which if you have been keeping track, doesn’t crack the top 100 list in NHL history. His career was not about putting up great stat lines. In fact, Graves had more penalty minutes than points in all but three of his NHL seasons.
It’s ironic then that in the season in which he did put up phenomenal stats, a then Rangers record 52 goals in one season, the team broke their curse and won Lord Stanley’s Cup, their first in over 54 years. Graves finished that season with 79 points (and 127 penalty minutes), tallying another 17 in the postseason.
Adam Graves left it all on the ice, and did everything he could to advance the team in all situations. If the team needed a fight, Adam Graves was there. If they needed a hard check, a big defensive play or a scoring opportunity, Graves rose to the occasion. If his fellow players needed somebody to follow, they could do worse than following his example. It was leadership by example at its finest, and that’s what came to epitomize the career of Adam Graves.
So despite career numbers that won’t dazzle you, Graves was brought into the honored retired jersey club for the New York Rangers. The heart of the Rangers would rest eternally above the fans cheering below, and would be celebrated in a ceremony appropriately entitled “Heart of the Rangers.”
He’s the least recognized of the four leaders of that ’93-’94 team, goaltender Mike Richter, defensemen Brian Leetch and captain Mark Messier. All of whom have had their nights of honor in Madison Square Garden already. Tonight it was Graves’ turn, and the usual cast of characters in such Rangers ceremonies made their return to the ice.
The list included the aforementioned three Rangers icons, as well as a slew of former teammates and Rangers guests. You see, the Rangers don’t just retire a jersey, they throw a party and they honor their player. Sam Rosen, long the team’s announcer, hosts the event and the crowd takes part in their favorite chants. So on the night that Adam Graves’ jersey was retired, the chant was of course, “Gravy, Gravy” (although it was “Gravesy” at least as often).
The honored player also receives gifts from the team and from the city and the fans as well. In the past, for example, Richter received amongst his other gifts a vintage wooden speedboat/pleasure craft since he enjoyed boating.
Graves, whose father was a police officer in Toronto, had a #9 NYPD badge made in his and his father’s honor. A mosaic was made with fan pictures, highlights and memories. And the cast of his favorite television show, The Sopranos came out with a signed Sopranos hockey jersey. And when I say cast, I don’t mean the B-list actors, I mean all of the big names, including Stevie Van Zandt straight from his Super Bowl rock out and Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.
Afterwards it fell onto The Captain, Messier, to take the microphone. Messier joked that if you add Graves’ penalty minutes to his points total, he really has almost 2,000 career points. Then Messier took part in another Rangers tradition. As fans have come to expect and cherish, Messier is known to become a tad bit emotional on such occasions. When I think of Mark Messier these days, half of the time I think legendary hockey player, and the other half of the time I conjure up Robert Deniro’s teary eyed gangster in Analyze This. A guy that was so tough for so long just has to let it all out eventually I suppose.
So as fans held up signs saying, “Thanks Mess for making crying cool” the inevitable waterworks started flowing as he was introducing his friend and teammate Adam Graves. Messier was forced to take a pause in his speech, to wipe a tear of course, saying, “It’s ok… I’ve been crying all week writing it.”
And so Adam Graves was introduced to the Garden faithful and despite it being a night where everyone could thank Graves for what he did in his career and how he has helped the team and the city in his post-player life, Graves couldn’t stop thanking everybody else. The names rang out one after another, including current Rangers players, members of the Rangers organization, his buddies from the glory years, and of course the fans.
Graves, always a selfless class act, continued to be even on a night designed to be just for him. Fitting, since that’s the way Rangers fans want to remember him anyway.
Sources: MSG Rangers broadcast, www.rangers.nhl.com, www.hockeydb.com