Leetch a Hall of Famer, On and Off the Ice

Hockey fans in general, and New York Ranger fans in particular, know all about newly-inducted Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch and his on-ice exploits.

Leetch, the Rangers second all-time leading scorer with 240 goals and 981 points, won the Calder Trophy as top rookie, two Norris Trophies as best defenseman, and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1994 when the Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

Who will ever forget his goal in the final game against Vancouver? With New York on the verge of a nervous breakdown after blowing a 3-1 lead in the series, Leetch scored the all-important first goal of the game to help lead the Rangers to a 3-2 win. I’ll never forget it.  I was in Madison Square Garden that night.

But there was another side of Brian Leetch that few fans knew, a side I was privileged to witness in person just before Christmas in 2001. Barely three months after the terrible attacks on the Twin Towers, a group of businesses and non-profits, including New York Cares, put on a toys for tots event in Manhattan for those unfortunate children who lost parents in the 9/11 attacks.

This event was held in the Garden, though not on center ice, and lasted most of the day. Other Ranger players came, handed out toys, signed a few autographs, and left.

But Leetch was there when the doors opened, and he didn’t leave until the last toy had been given out and the last child had left. He seemed to have a kind word for all.

There were no news cameras there day, no ESPN coverage, no feature stories in the next day’s Sunday papers.

But I know. I was there to see a great Ranger, and an even greater man, put smiles on kids’ faces and give them a little boost at a time when they needed it most.

You’re a good man, Brian Leetch, because you really do care. A Hall of Famer off the ice as well as on.

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