FullTilt Flashback: 1994 Core Four
Today we celebrate the 21st Anniversary of that magical night in the Summer of ’94. In the face of the losses suffered in the last two season, you realize just how amazing and special that team and that season were. In honor of the historic win, we highlight the 4 core members of that team that made it happen.
The New York Rangers signed Graves on September 3, 1991 as a free agent. GM, Neil Smith knew that he was going to help the club’s top two lines while providing character and grit. What he and the organization couldn’t know was how he would help change what it means to play for the Rangers.
Graves was all about sacrifice. Whether it be his own well being by defending a teammate against usually a much bigger opponent with his fists or giving his time to help sick and underprivileged children. It was the essence of his character and made him the recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award a record 5 times and 3 consecutive times from the moment he put on the Rangers sweater (including 1994).
In 1994 he scored 52 goals and broke Vic Hadfield‘s record. That year he also would slay the curse and lift the Stanley Cup high overhead. When I look back at that season, it plays like a movie in my mind. Every great film has a character that the audience can relate to more than others, sometimes allowing you to feel close to the action and the emotions. When the Rangers won the Cup, he looked directly at the camera and chanted “1940!” It was right there that he symbolically took the place of every Rangers fan on the ice and mocked the chant that haunted us for so long. That was Adam Graves.
As far as this Rangers fan is concerned, he is the greatest goaltender in Blueshirts’ history. The kid from Flyers enemy territory, Flourtown, PA led the Rangers to glory in 1994. Whenever I think of greatest save in Rangers history, it is followed by these three words…”SAVE BY RICHTER!”
His acrobatic goaltending and Jean-Claude Van Damme like split saves were a thing to behold. If you don’t know who JCVD is then not only have I dated myself but you need to Youtube him. Terrible 80’s and 90’s action star but his movies were a blast. Richter’s best save and the greatest in Rangers history was of course the penalty shot stop in game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final.
Sadly, injuries to his MCL, ACL, a fractured skull and multiple concussions over several seasons ended Richter’s career way too soon. When all was said and done he posted a record of 301-258—73 in 666 regular season games sporting a 2.89 GAA & .904 save percentage along with 24 shutouts.
In the playoffs, he posted a 41-33 record in 76 games with a 2.68 GAA & .909 save percentage to go along with 9 shutouts. He also amassed numerous honors to go along with his Stanley Cup Championship of 1994. He was a silver medalist in the 2002 Olympics, winner of the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 for Team USA, where he was all named MVP of that tournament. Richter also captured MVP honors of the 1994 NHL All Star Game.
Still, with all those sad images at the end of his career they will never overshadow the sight of him raising the Cup over his head and yelling the words every Rangers fan was thinking…”FINALLY!”
Has there ever been a more talented and gifted Ranger ever drafted? I doubt it. In 1989 Brian Leetch set an NHL rookie record for defensemen by scoring 23 goals and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year. He became only the 5th NHL defensemen to get over 100 points in a season when he had 102 (22g, 82a) in 1992. That season he picked up his first of two Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman.
Of course, his jaw dropping and inspirational performance in the 1994 playoffs are what he will forever be remembered for. That season he scored 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points in 23 games. No kids, those are real numbers and you can go look it up if you don’t believe me. Leech’s performance was done while having his shoulder frozen before each game in the Finals due to a shoulder tear. Those numbers and that courage made him the 1st American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoff’s MVP.
Leetch would eventually captain the Rangers after Messier had a fall out with management and bolted for Vancouver. It wasn’t a great time for Leetch as the Rangers were a shadow of what they used to be and his style was very reserved and quiet.
No matter though, there may never be another player like Brian Leetch to be drafted by the Rangers and have that kind of success again. Leetch was literally one of the greatest Rangers of all time and that sometimes gets overlooked because of his closest friend, “The Captain” #11.
Before he ever pulled a Rangers sweater over his head, he had a handful of Stanley Cup rings with the Edmonton Oilers (1 for each finger). When Messier was acquired in 1991 for Bernie Nicholls, Louie Debrusk and future considerations, GM Neil Smith said that the “Rangers logo would look different after Messier is done here”. Truer words about the Rangers were likely never spoken.
For the first time, the Rangers had a bonafide superstar on their team and he was in his prime. Let me put this into context for today, it would be like the Rangers landing Jonathan Toews or Alex Ovechkin to lead the team. Only difference is Mess had 3 more championships to his name then both those players combined.
In his first season Messier captured the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. A feat no Rangers player had accomplished since Andy Bathgate in 1958-59. After an injury plagued season that saw the Blueshirts miss the playoffs, Messier grabbed the team by the throat and led them to the Stanley Cup.
The “We Will Win Tonight” guarantee is his legacy in NY. The Rangers were facing elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. It looked like the Devils were going to send the Rangers home and extend the misery to 55 years without a Cup. Instead of letting that happen, Mess made the statement the day before and that night backed it up with a hat-trick and an assist.
Simply the stuff of legend. Mark Messier led with his heart on his sleeve and in NY, we took to that. Messier did what so many before him failed to do, bring a Cup to New York City. For that, he will always hold the key to the City and the hearts of every Rangers fan, old and new.
Forever the Captain.