|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Exclusive Interview with Leetch
|Mark Messier on Leetch's Career
|Mike Richter on Leetch's Career
|Adam Graves on Leetch's Career
|Brian Leetch said he's excited about returning to The Garden tonight for one more moment with the Rangers fans who saw him grow up with the Blueshirts.
• Leetch Tribute Section
• Fans' Messages to Leetch
• Other Rangers Who Wore No. 2
• Leetch Honored at 'Skate with the Greats'
• Game Preview: Rangers vs. Thrashers
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
One day before his No. 2 jersey was to be raised to the rafters at Madison Square Garden in a pregame ceremony honoring one of the greatest New York Rangers ever, Brian Leetch met with the media at La Cucina Restaurant at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon.
Leetch reflected on his 17-year NHL career, 16 of which were played as a Ranger, and looked ahead to Thursday's ceremony, during a late-afternoon press gathering that also was attended by a large group of former teammates, including Mark Messier, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Jeff Beukeboom, Stephane Matteau and Brian Mullen, as well as fellow legendary Rangers defenseman Harry Howell.
|PHOTOS: Brian Leetch and the 1994 run to the Stanley Cup.
"I thought it was going to be more nervous anticipation building up to the night, something that I would look forward to getting over with because of the nerves," said Leetch of when he was first informed that the Rangers were planning to hold a night in his honor. "But I have gotten such a positive reaction from all my friends, and people I run into that are Rangers fans and are looking forward to it, that it just gets me excited. I am excited for the night. And I am excited for everyone to have a good time."
Leetch has helped plan parts of the No. 2 banner ceremony, although said he is not aware of everything that will take place. He does know that many of his good friends and former teammates are returning to The Garden to help him and his family celebrate Brian Leetch Night, and that makes the event even more special to him.
"This night is about all of those teammates and all of those people -- parents, friends - and that's part of the beauty of this whole thing is that you can share it with all of them," said Leetch. "You don't get to this position individually in a team sport. And that's part of what makes me feel good about (the event). It's being able to go through that and recognize some people and share the experience with a lot of people."
Leetch's No. 2 jersey will ascend to the famous ceiling at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, joining Ed Giacomin's No. 1, Rod Gilbert's No. 7, Messier's No. 11, and Richter's No. 35.
Having his jersey hanging next to that of Richter will be quite special for Leetch because those two share so many hockey memories together, not only as Rangers teammates, but as members of several Team USA squads in international competitions ranging from the World Cup of Hockey to the Olympic Games.
"He was always the goofy kid," Leetch said of Richter. "Every game he would find a way to make me laugh and loosen me up."
Leetch recounted a story of a late-game giveaway he made, putting the puck right on to the stick of famed sniper Brett Hull in the slot. Hull let loose a wicked shot that whizzed by Richter, who had no chance in making the save. But fortunately for the Rangers, the puck clanged off of the crossbar and stayed out of the net.
At the next whistle Leetch skated over to his goaltender to apologize for his bad giveaway, but Richter replied in deadpan fashion, "No sweat. Had it all the way!"
"Our personalities meshed so well together," noted Richter. "I sat next to Brian forever on those plane rides, and that is where some of the most enjoyable moments of my life were."
Sharing the rafters at The Garden with Messier will also be very special for Leetch, whose career began to reach new heights upon the arrival of The Captain in 1991. Though Leetch had already won the Calder Trophy three years before as the league's top rookie, he would go on to win two Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenseman, a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and a Stanley Cup after Messier joined the team.
While there is no doubt Leetch was well on his way to greatness, with or without Messier's presence, No. 2 believes that he became not only a better player, but a better person because of No. 11.
"Other than my Dad, Mark had the biggest influence on me," said Leetch. "Just watching how he interacted with his family, with his teammates, with the fans. He totally influenced the way I behaved. And on the ice, he played the game the way I envisioned it."
Of all the great moments in his career, Leetch said he is most proud of having been drafted by the Rangers and then helping the team that drafted him win the Stanley Cup Championship.
"There is just something special in that," stated Leetch, who recorded more goals (240), more assists (741), and more points (981) than any other defenseman in the history of the Rangers franchise.
On Thursday evening, nearly two years after skating in his last NHL match, Leetch will have one more great moment on the ice at Madison Square Garden. It will be a moment, to borrow Rangers broadcaster Sam Rosen's classic line, that will last a lifetime.