In sports, it's always emotional when a player or coach who had a major impact on an organization leaves. For the fans, it's even more emotional when that player or coach returns as a member of the opposition. Here are five memorable returns of ex-Rangers to Madison Square Garden.
5. Mike Keenan (Blues at Rangers, Jan. 14, 1996)
In his one year as Rangers head coach, Mike Keenan led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. However, Keenan bolted the Rangers after that season, despite having four years remaining on his contract. Keenan's excuse for leaving was that he didn't receive his bonus money on time from general manager Neil Smith.
Despite winning the Cup, Keenan was viewed as a traitor by the Rangers fans, and he was booed upon his return. The game itself was uneventful and ended in a 1-1 tie.
4. Adam Graves (Sharks at Rangers, Oct. 22, 2001)
For 10 seasons, Adam Graves was the heart of the Rangers. Although not the most talented player, he instantly became a fan favorite for his grit, his willingness to protect his teammates and his devotion to New York. Graves' ties to the city made it difficult for him and Rangers fans alike when he was traded to the San Jose Sharks after the 2000-01 season.
Graves' return to the Garden was an emotional one. A video tribute was played on the board before the game, and he received a two-minute standing ovation. In the game, Graves registered an assist and was named third star as the Sharks cruised to a 5-1 win.
3. Brian Leetch (Bruins at Rangers, Mar. 20, 2006)
Brian Leetch is arguably the greatest player to ever play for the Rangers and, without a doubt, the greatest defenseman in team history. During his 17 seasons on Broadway, Leetch won almost every individual award and set 49 team records. That is why Rangers fans were stunned when Leetch was traded at the 2004 trade deadline to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Leetch's return was highly anticipated by Rangers fans. The pre-game tribute to Leetch was drowned out by cheers, but the game was uneventful. Leetch admittedly played in a fog for most of the game, and the Rangers won 5-2.
2. Mark Messier (Canucks at Rangers, Nov. 25, 1997)
Mark Messier will forever be remembered by Rangers fans as the man who brought the Stanley Cup back to New York. After a one-year reunion with Wayne Gretzky, Messier, who felt slighted by the Rangers' contract offer, left to join the team he beat in 1994: the Vancouver Canucks.
Messier's return was emotional for all sides. During warmups, the Canucks' end was packed with Rangers fans wearing #11 jerseys and holding signs. The pre-game tribute brought the emotional Messier to tears. During the game, Messier scored on a breakaway and was named first star as the Canucks won 4-2.
1. Eddie Giacomin (Red Wings at Rangers, Nov. 2, 1975)
Eddie Giacomin is one of the most popular players to ever play for the Rangers. During his 11 seasons with the Rangers, he rewrote the Rangers' goaltending record book. On Oct. 31, 1975, Giacomin was placed on waivers and claimed by the Detroit Red Wings. Ironically, the Rangers' first home game after Giacomin was claimed was against the Red Wings.
Giacomin's return was strange for him and his former teammates. Rangers fans couldn't get accustomed to him wearing a red jersey with #31 on the back instead of his famous #1. The Rangers fans made this game memorable, chanting "Eddie! Eddie!" for the entire game. Giacomin's return was a successful one, as the Red Wings won 6-4.
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