Star defenceman Brian Leetch officially announces his retirement

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
May 24, 2007
The Hockey News

Star defenceman Brian Leetch officially announces his retirement

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
May 24, 2007

And while he could find his own name entered under several categories, that's not what he looks for. During an 18-year career that will surely land him in the Hall of Fame, Leetch was teammates with four of the top five all-time point-getters along with several other guys right up there on that list.

"You can go right down those record books," Leetch said Thursday from Boston. "From Gretz and Mess, you've got Marcel Dionne, Guy Lafleur, Ron Francis, Mike Gartner and just on and on.

"It's been amazing. That's what I kind of really I shake my head at - how many interesting players I've been able to be friends with and play with."

Leetch, one of the best defenceman ever to play the game, officially announced his retirement Thursday.

He sat out last season before making the final decision. The people closest to the 39-year-old were eager to see him resume his career, but he knew deep down that he'd had enough.

"Everyone wanted me to keep playing or at least to keep the option of coming back open," said Leetch. "But I knew inside that I wasn't going to play anymore.

"It's just kind of letting everybody else know now."

He leaves behind an 18-year NHL career that saw him win a Stanley Cup, become the first American-born player to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and receive numerous other honours.

Above all, Leetch says he'll remember his teammates and that famous Stanley Cup win with the New York Rangers in 1994 that ended a drought of 54 years. He still gets stopped regularly when he visits Manhattan by fans looking to thank him for it.

"It came at a time when I was comfortable with my place as an NHL player and our team was getting better," said Leetch. "Just to win at that point in New York after 54 years, it was definitely the highlight of my career."

One of the low points came at the trade deadline in 2004 when he was dealt by the Rangers to Toronto.

Leetch was drafted in the first round by New York in 1986 and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year while playing there in 1989. He played parts of 17 seasons in the Big Apple and wanted to retire as a member of the Rangers.

"I was given no heads-up on that one," Leetch said of the trade. "I was angry about that and disappointed.

"There had been references made before that I would end my career in New York. I was just lucky that I went to Toronto at a time when they had a good team, a veteran team. It made a real emotional time very easy for me."

After 15 regular-season games and a playoff run that ended in the second-round, Leetch was finished in Toronto. He then sat out the lockout season before signing with the Boston Bruins and playing one more year.

Leetch's agent received offers from teams this past season who were willing to let him join them mid-year, but his legs weren't in game shape and his heart wasn't into working to get them that way.

An arrangement like the one pitcher Roger Clemens worked out with the New York Yankees this season and Houston Astros last year wasn't for Leech.

"If I could play one game a week and have as big of impact on a team, that's something I'd do," he said. "To play every day and to be counted on to be a big player, I knew what I needed to do and I was never at that point."

He also found himself enjoying life away from the rink with wife Mary Beth and his three children - aged seven, four and one. The family lives in Boston and Leetch has already found himself with new hobbies.

The one he enjoys most is watching NHL games on television.

"When I was playing, I wouldn't be able to sleep if I watched a hockey game before going to bed," said Leetch. "Now I look forward to watching it every night."

His career honours also include two Norris Trophies, three Olympic appearances for the U.S., and nine NHL all-star games.

The native of Corpus Christi, Texas, finishes his career with 247 goals and 781 assists for 1,028 points in 1,205 games.

He became known for his quiet leadership and burning passion. Before spending this past season away from the game, hockey had been something that Leetch could never leave at the rink.

"To be able to release the stress of a season, I took hockey home with me all the time," he said. "It was a 24-hour thing."

Because of that, Leetch thinks that one day pursuing a job in the game is "inevitable."

He will first enjoy a month-long summer vacation with his family on Cape Cod. Sometime down the road, he believes he'd make a good assistant coach.

"I'd like not having to be the bad guy," said Leetch. "I really enjoy working 1-on-1 with players, just being able to help guys out with their play and the mental aspects of the game."

He's taken some pleasure in seeing the Rangers turn things around recently.

The team missed the playoffs the last seven years Leetch played for it, but has found itself in the post-season both years since the lockout ended.

Leetch believes the emergence of goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been the difference.

"You can't win without that goalie," he said. "He definitely gave that organization and team confidence after the lockout the way he played."

Leetch had always hoped to be there when the franchise became competitive again, but he's at peace with everything that happened.

His time has come.

"I have no regrets," said Leetch. "You can't play forever. I'm very lucky to have played as long as I did."

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Star defenceman Brian Leetch officially announces his retirement