Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Heartfelt Thank You. . .

The New York Rangers will honor one of their own tonight, sending Adam Graves' #9 to the Garden rafters. In honor of one of the most humble and gracious athletes ever, I'd like to take a few minutes to share my memories of him.

I have three favorite Adam Graves moments.

One, his overtime game winning goal versus the New Jersey Devils in the 1997 playoffs, scored in eerily similar fashion to Stephane Matteau's overtime goal against Brodeur three years earlier.

Two, the look on Adam's face when Mark Messier scored his 500th career goal and they met along the boards in the corner of the rink.

Three, his tear-filled return to the Garden when he played with the San Jose Sharks and he was given a well deserved and incredibly moving video tribute.

Two of his greatest moments to one of his saddest, I'm sure.

The first and second speak for themselves, but why the third is one of my favorites, is because it's my most lasting. I remember they played the Faith Hill song used in the movie Pearl Harbor, and I bawled for the entire game from the comfort of my bedroom. It was a friend that had to say good-bye, but a friend that got the chance to come back and be thanked for all he did.

And that's exactly what Graves exemplifies. Lasting memories. Lasting actions. And a true friend worthy of our thanks.

Perhaps he was not the greatest player, although that fact can and has been argued. It was never really about the numbers though. Not to him and not to the people that loved him.

We appreciated that he'd stand in the crease and get relentlessly abused to score those garbage goals.

We appreciated how he loved the game so much and with such dedication that he'd block a puck, with his face.

We appreciated how he'd be the first person to stick up for his teammate - any teammate.

We appreciated how he'd be humble when he scored, but over the moon when one of his teammates did the same.

We appreciated all he did for the countless people surrounding the team - the fans and the people of the community.

We appreciated his charitable efforts, especially lasting ones like Toys for Tots, that still remain a strong part of the Rangers fabric today.

We appreciated him because we've never - never, ever - heard a bad word about him, from anyone, and we know how truly rare that is.

Growing up, Brian Leetch was my favorite player, a player I modeled my own game after and someone who was perhaps underappreciated because of how well and how seemingly effortlessly he did his job every night. Mark Messier was a leader I respected and someone who's attitude and skill I certainly credit with helping the Rangers win the Cup. Mike Richter, in his best years, was a clutch performer, who had sequences of greatness in 1994 and 1996 that I feel rival the best of all time.

So if Brian Leetch was the most talented and the most consistent. If Mark Messier was the leader and the legend. If Mike Richter was the performer and the backbone.

Then Adam Graves, most definitely, was the heart.

The heart and the most perfect teammate anyone could ever ask for.

How one man can touch so many fans of the game and so many people surrounding the game of hockey is still remarkable to me. It was a rare and wonderful thing for us fans in New York to get to have Adam on our team for as long as we did.

In a recent interview clip, Adam Graves talked about how he cherished his time in New York. How he spoke of the Rangers organization to new, young players. How excited he used to get standing on the blue line during the National Anthem. And he said that he hopes that when fans think about his career here in New York, that they remember him as a guy that respected the privilege of wearing the Rangers sweater.

Adam, I think I speak for every Rangers fan when I say you are the perfect example of someone who wore that sweater with the pride and humility it truly deserved. Each and every day you wore it.

I'm sure you'll be thanking us tonight, but it's you that deserves all the thanks in the world.

Thank you, Adam.

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