|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Skate with the Greats Recap
|Exclusive Interview with Leetch
|Mark Messier on Leetch's Career
|Mike Richter on Leetch's Career
|Adam Graves on Leetch's Career
|Brian Leetch signs an autograph at Wednesday night's "Skate with the Greats" event while sharing a laugh with fellow Rangers great Harry Howell.
• Leetch Tribute Section
• Leetch Ready for His Big Night
On the night before his legendary No. 2 was set to be raised to The Garden rafters forever, Brian Leetch laced up his skates one more time to benefit a cause dear to him -- The Ronald McDonald House of New York -- at the 14th Annual "Skate with the Greats" event at Rockefeller Center.
The Ronald McDonald House of New York is supported in part by the Rangers and a partnership with the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a non-profit charity that works closely with the Rangers and all areas of Madison Square Garden to "make dreams come true for kids in crisis."
Joined by 15 of his Blueshirt brethren, Leetch and the Rangers helped raise over $1.5 million, adding greatly to their previous total of $6.5 million dollars.
"We raise a ton of money," Leetch said before the event kicked off. "And it's a fun night on top of it all. It's something that I was disappointed when I was traded away that I missed but am thrilled to be a part of this year."
Leetch's involvement with the Ronald McDonald House of New York reaches back to his earliest days with the Rangers.
"When you are a young player in the New York Rangers organization, they do a great job of getting players involved in the community and trying to find where they are successful," Leetch said.
In fact, Leetch was right there when the first "Skate with the Greats" event took place in the early 1990s.
"The Ronald McDonald House had shown a desire to be involved with the Rangers in some capacity, and they came up with this idea for the 'Skate With the Greats' and asked if I wanted to be a part of that and I thought , 'That's perfect!,'" Leech recalled. "I've seen the impact the Ronald McDonald House has had on families, knowing their children are working so hard in their battles, but that also their parents need support too. To be able to get them together, it's one of the best things I've ever been involved in."
Joining Leetch to mingle with over 900 fans were fellow Rangers icons Rod Gilbert, Mark Messier, Mike Richter and Adam Graves, in addition to such favorites as Stephane Matteau, Jeff Beukeboom, and many others.
"Anytime you get the opportunity to interact with the people of New York and more specifically the supporters of the Ronald McDonald House, it is a special night," said Graves. "For anyone that doesn't know what a difference the Ronald McDonald House makes, they should take a trip into the city or do the research because it is just a fantastic organization that makes a great amount of difference in so many families lives, and allows them to support their kids when their battling illnesses from all over the world."
Richter echoed Graves' sentiments.
"'Skate with the Greats' is something that we've been doing for 14 years, and it's a perfect marriage," he said. "The Rangers have been really good. They know their place in the city, and put their athletes in a position to make a difference, and Brian Leetch has been a spokesperson for this event. It has been some unreal work. They have generated somewhere in the vicinity of over six million dollars to an absolutely crucial charity.
"Cancer is something that plagues our society. Kids get it and are separated from our society. A rehab program without loved ones is a very difficult ordeal, but this allows parents of kids to stay together. I've had people come up and say 'Thank You, You don't know how much this means.' So once you realize how much of an impact it's had, you know there is nothing more important than this."
Wednesday night's event brought back many fond memories for other Rangers, including Stephane Matteau.
"This is the first time in a long time that I've done it ('Skate with the Greats')," said Matteau. "I did it when I was with the Rangers many years ago but it's been a long time for me, but it's great to see all the kids and their parents, and the turnout here in New York is just amazing."
In addition to signing autographs and taking photographs, the Rangers hit the ice at Rockefeller Center to skate with their fans as well. Still, everyone's mind was on Leetch, and how special it was to hold the "Skate with the Greats" event in conjunction with his number retirement ceremony.
"This is perfect, and the Rangers did another smart thing holding this event back-to-back with Brian's ceremony," said Richter. "It's a great way of honoring Brian, as well as something that is dear to his heart, so I am glad to come out here and help."
"This has always been a big part of Brian's personal life and career. He's always been a big supporter of the Ronald McDonald House, and I think it is only a propos that we will be able to celebrate this on consecutive nights, capping it off when his number gets retired. But equally important to him I think he'd say is this event," Graves said.
Another former teammate, Brian Mullen, said it was a thrill to be reunited with Leetch in such a setting.
"I'm real excited for Brian," Mullen said. "I was his first roommate when he came to New York, and I got to spend a lot of time with him. We roomed together for close to two years. We really got to know each other, and I was playing for the Islanders when they won the Cup, but I was down here watching the game because I knew Brian would win the MVP so I was cheering him on. He is just a great individual and this couldn't happen to a better guy."