Some of you reading just the headline are wondering where this is going while others, especially fellow Ranger fans, have an idea of where this is heading. With Adam Graves number 9 being retired last night came the final of 4 brothers who brought Lord Stanley to New York in 1994. As a fan it was something I knew would come, but as a friend can’t believe is over and done with. And this requires a long explanation.
Eleven years ago the Muscular Dystrophy Association put together a fundraiser called Muscle Team which would team up individuals with Muscular Dystrophy with sports players for a night of fun and fundraising. Being the huge Ranger fan that I am it was intended for me to be teamed up with Adam. But unfortunately fate had other plans because as this fundraiser was being planned I was hospitalized with pneumonia. Spending my 18th birthday hooked up to every machine thinkable as I fought to keep going on this earth. I spent 5 and a half weeks in intensive care and could not take part in the fundraiser. But Adam was told about me and sent me a signed puck while I was in the hospital because the Rangers schedule didn’t allow time for him to visit me. But that puck was only the beginning.
After finally winning the battle I had come home. And one night as I sat watching television the phone rang. I paid no mind to it even after my brother had yelled from the other room; “Do you know an Adam?”, which was followed by my mother coming into my room to inform me that Adam Graves was on the phone to speak to me. Shocked would be an understatement as to how I felt at the time. It was an amazing conversation that to this date I feel somewhat bad about because the game prior to this call was a quiet night for Adam but a great game for Gretzky and that’s what we talked about. There I was, on the phone with a man responsible for making me a hockey fan, a Ranger fan, and for bringing Lord Stanley to New York and we were talking about Gretzky. However those lucky enough to know Adam know that that wasn’t something that would bother him which I had confirmed later that year.
It was Fall of 1998 when Adam and I finally met face to face. My brother and I were part of the second Muscle Team event. Now I wasn’t team with Adam, but everyone got to meet everyone involved and after we had taken the press photos my father went over to Adam and asked if he remembered me. Well my father comes running over to me, goes into my bag to take out the Adam Graves’ jersey I had worn throughout the previous season and utters the words “Adam wants to meet you”. As I rolled over to meet him I found myself turning into a nervous child yet I had turned 18 that year. And to this day all I remember of that meeting is shaking his hand, saying hi, congratulating him on scoring the first goal of the season for the Rangers two years in a row, and watching him sign the jersey right on his number 9. This was still only the beginning.
After that we would see each other at the Muscle Team fundraisers and I would keep in touch with him through his agent Rob. Finding out how things are going, letting both him and Rob know how I was doing, and just talking about the Rangers and hockey in general. And then came the night in June of 2001 when the news was released that Adam was traded to the San Jose Sharks for two prospects. I starred at the television trying to grasp at how someone that I was lucky enough to meet and become friends with was going to be gone. No more watching my friend every other night throughout hockey season and saying to the television “shoot it Adam” as if he could hear me. And, at the age of 21, I had cried myself to sleep that night not knowing if I would ever get to see my friend again.
But that was answered in October of that year as the Sharks came into The Garden for the first time since the trade. My family and I were lucky enough to be invited to the game as a guest of Adam’s and the Rangers. And for the first time as a Ranger fan I entered the building for a game wearing the jersey of the visiting team to support my friend. We arrived late as it was after 9/11 and had misjudged traffic conditions so I first saw Adam as he skated onto the ice for practice as I sat by the zamboni gate for the night. The tribute video that night to thank him for all his years as a Ranger was amazing but all I could think was that he should still be a Ranger. It was an amazing night as a hockey fan as a team mate of Adam’s, Vincent Damphousse, gave me the stick he used during practice followed by seeing Adam after the game. It was a brief visit as he had to get to the bus but I remember the look of surprise he had seeing me in a Sharks jersey. We caught up a bit, he signed the jersey, said keep in touch and off he went as some of his team mates stopped to say hi and sign the jersey.
I got to see Adam as a Shark again the following season when they came in again. Except this time was a little different. I was no longer attending MDA Summer Camp and had retired from playing hockey as I had no where to play anymore. And I felt I needed to thank Adam for being my friend and who I tried to play like. I took with me the stick I had used for 6 years to give to him. As we waited to see him prior to the game I took out the silver sharpie and signed the stick. Adam came out from the locker room to see us and the other family there and after catching up and a few laughs came time for me to give him the stick. The only problem was I couldn’t spit the words out. We stood there a moment until my mom explained for me that I had retired from playing and I wanted him to have my stick as my way of thanking him. And after a brief moment of emotion that we all fought, Adam said it was going in his stick bag with his sticks, which floored me. Although the irony here is that was Adam’s last year as a player.
Adam had appeared at Mike Richter’s retirement night and I remember being one of the 18,000 Garden faithful who screamed “sign him” as Adam approached the podium to speak. We all wanted one more year of him as a Ranger, but that never happen. Well at least as a player, Adam joined the Rangers again as a member of the office side to continue the work he started in the community. And I’d catch him after games outside the offices to just catch up and see how things are. And as Mark Messier’s number was retired and Brian Leetch’s number retirement had been announced I wanted Adam to join them, even telling Adam that I’d start a petition with my mother to get his number added.
Then came Leetch’s night last January where he announced that Adam’s number would join them in the rafters. I was so thrilled that night to know that finally my hero and friend would be in Ranger history forever. And that was only added to when I spoke with his Agent Rob to pass along my congratulations to Adam when Rob told me Adam wanted me there.
This brings me to last week. I had gotten an old blank jersey made up with his name and number for the night and awaited word from the Rangers or Rob about details. And the Rangers called inviting me to a special party Monday night and to be part of a fan tunnel for Adam’s entrance, which was a surprise for Adam. The party was an amazing experience to see how many lives Adam has touched and with the opportunity to meet Darren Langdon, Stephane Matteau, Jeff Beukeboom, Mike Richter, Mark Messier, Ed Giacomin, Rod Gilbert, and future number retirees Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell. It was an amazing night and a way for Adam to share is night with others, something he’s known for.
Then came the day, his number 9 was going up. Because of the snow we left early since we were to be part of his entrance. We arrived early and stood in the hall awaiting the start of the ceremony. Finally it had come and Adam’s name was announced and the roar came from the beginning of the fan tunnel as he began his walk to Ranger history. As he got closer I gathered myself. And although it was only a moment a lot was said without speaking. His handshake said “you got the night you wanted” and as we made eye contact before he continued on his eyes said “thank you for wanting it.” We then were rushed to our seats which were at the end of the ice where his banner would be raised. The ceremony went by to quickly and I was fine until Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Markus Naslund began skating from the bench with his banner. I tried to fight my emotions but lost. I cried. Tears of joy and admiration as I watched my friends name and number be raised to the rafters taking his place in Rangers history, something I had waited for years to see happen.
And now I can say that I’m honored to be friends with a man who is part of history for the type of person he is. I am honored to know that I can always look up at the rafters of The Garden and say I know that man, a man whose got the biggest heart in the world and a man who I can never truly thank fully for allowing me the honor of being a friend.