Thursday, May 24, 2007

You Stay Classy, Brian Leetch

Former Bruins defensemen Brian Leetch announced his retirement today, ending an 18-year career that should culminate with a Hall of Fame induction. Aside from his statistical and championship winning achievements, what amazed me the most about Leetch is consistent play and leadership.

He was drafted by the Rangers in 1986, and played for them until he was traded to Toronto in 2004. After the lockout Leetch played for Boston in 2005-06, but could not find an NHL contract this season. Now 39, most teams passed on him due to price tag and age.

Leetch was always the player's player. He was a quiet leader, and took over the 'C' for the Rangers from 1997-2000 while Waterworks McGee took a vacation in Vancouver. There was a certain respectability about Leetch; that he always was the hard working, blue collar, dependable kind of guy that never sparked a riot.

Being a huge Islanders fan, you would think it would be hard for me to heap praise on someone who did so much for the Broadway Blueshirts for so many years. Not true. For as long as I can remember, Leetch has been the one player on Broadway whom I never viewed hatefully or as an enemy.

Sure, he played for the Dark Side. That just didn't matter, since there was a certain respectability about him. He was the type of player whose team you wanted to beat, destroy even, but Leetch was the player that at the end of the game you smiled at and shook his hand because he was the one that you had a serious competitive respect for.

Has it really been 3 1/2 years since this guy played on New York's blue line?
Ed Betz/AP

As much as his teammates may have induced Islander fans into an expletive laced tirade, such as when Dan Cloutier threatened the entire Islander bench; Leetch never, ever had that effect.

That result was always evident at the Nassau Coliseum. When the Rangers came to town during Leetch's career, there were never any derogatory chants involving him. From 'Crackhead Fleury' and 'Cry Baby Messier' to the 'traitors' Kasparitis and Trottier, there was never a word about Leetch. 'Riiiiichter, Riiiichter' might echo down from the nosebleeds, or some harassment aimed at Jagr's/Messier's/Prucha's/Lindros' mother, but never Leetch's.

Leetch was a professional who always played by the rules, never sucker punched your left winger, and always knew how to talk to the media. In an age when stars such as Jeremy Roenick and Brett Hull mouthed off at the media, Leetch never budged.

After sitting out a season with no suitable contract offers, Leetch knew it was time to hang up the skates for good. Of course, he made the announcement exactly in classic Brian Leetch style. No big press conference. No long farewell tour. A few phone calls with reporters and a story from the AP.

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