Just a short time ago, the New York Rangers announced that they will honor three more of the most honored players in franchise history during the upcoming 2008-2009 National Hockey League season.
Fans have been waiting for months to find out exactly when Adam Graves will have his #9 retired, the last member of the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team to receive such an honor. That night will come on February 3, 2009 when the Rangers face the Atlanta Thrashers at Madison Square Garden.
Graves may not have the Hockey Hall of Fame kind of numbers that one would expect to have that accompany such number retirees with 280 goals and 227 assists for 507 points in 772 career regular season games. But along with his heroics in which he scored 10 goals in 23 playoff games in that successful 1994 postseason run and a then-franchise record 52 goals during the regular season, Graves was a man that was an unquestioned leader and gave back so much to the community in which he is revered, loved, adored and inspired by everyone around him. I was fortunate enough to have him autograph a piece of that memorable season, a photo of him scoring in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. I can thank Mark and Donna Rubin at American Legends in Scarsdale, New York for making that possible.
"Adam Graves is one of the most beloved players to ever don a New York Rangers sweater," Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather said in the team news release. "Off the ice, there isn't a finer person. His effort and production as a hockey player was nothing short of triumphant and, even today, his dedication to the community is incomparable. We are proud to have Adam join his fellow 1994 Stanley Cup Champion teammates Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch, as well as legends Rod Gilbert and Eddie Giacomin, as his number is raised to the rafters of Madison Square Garden."
I seriously doubt it was intentional as far as having the Thrashers be the Rangers' opponent again as they were when Brian Leetch Night took place on January 24, 2008. Remember Graves' reaction when Leetch told him in front of 18,200 fans that he'd be joining him up there in the Garden rafters as among the greats of Rangers history? The visual needs no words.
video courtesy: NHL Productions
I don't know if it was a coincidence or not either in terms of exactly where particular people were at that exact moment, but if you noticed this in the video clip, Howell was standing right next to Graves and was the first to congratulate him. Bathgate was next to Howell as well. Now all three will have not just the moment of reflect on when Graves was given that big surprise, but all will be among the Rangers elite players ever to play for the Broadway Blueshirts.
But any those Atlanta players that saw Leetch's #2 go up there who will be on the roster six months from now will be in for another treat. All on-ice competition aside, this is an event that is great for the game of hockey, at least in this town.
I will say more in reflecting back on Graves' 10 years in New York City after his number his retired. There is no doubt about it.
As for the other two honorees, they are special in their own right. Just a few weeks later, they will join Graves among the honored Rangers. Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell will have their numbers retired on February 22, 2009. Bathgate will then share #9 with Graves while Howell will have his #3 hang from the rafters of the world's most famous arena.
"Rangers history is enriched by players like Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell, who laid the foundation for what a Rangers player should be," Sather said. "They will now take their rightful place in The Garden rafters alongside those players who have carried their tradition throughout the years."
Bathgate played 12 of his 18 NHL seasons in New York between the 1952-1953 season to the 1963-1964 campaign and was Rangers captain from 1961 to 1964. He scored 272 goals and had 457 assists for 729 points in 719 regular season games for the team.
Howell also began what would end up as a 17-year run on Broadway also starting in the 1952-1953 season and he captained the Rangers from 1955 to 1957. He played a team record 1,160 of a possible 1,200 games during his time in New York. He may not have put up the kind of numbers as a defenseman like Leetch did, but he sure was durable, wasn't he?
Stan Fischler ("The Hockey Maven") had some nice words to say about each of the three future number retirees where it's hard not to like Graves, called Bathgate the consumate performer and feels that Howell was among the most underrated defensemen to play the game. It is certainly worth checking out.
One way or another, generations of Rangers fans (not just the more recent ones) have much to look forward to next February when these three legends join Gilbert, Giacomin, Richter, Messier and Leetch as the greatest ever that New York City has seen play this great game.