By Sean Hartnett
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Some labels are fair, others are unjust. Former Rangers captain Chris Drury saw both sides of the coin throughout a 12-year NHL career and while representing the United States National Team at junior and senior levels between 1996-2010.
On Monday morning, Drury was announced as one of four members of the 2015 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame class, along with former Rangers and Islanders defenseman Mathieu Schneider, four-time Olympic gold medalist Angela Ruggiero, and former USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio.
After throwing a five-hitter to propel Trumbull, Conn,. to the 1989 Little League World Series title and capturing the national pee wee hockey championship in the same year, Drury at the age of 13 was identified as a pure winner.
His college hockey career was one of the most decorated in Boston University’s rich history. He became the first athlete to win the Hobey Baker Award as top NCAA player and the Calder Trophy, earning the latter in his 1998-99 debut season with the Colorado Avalanche.
Drury’s reputation continued a steady upward trajectory, mirroring the soaring Rocky Mountains. He quickly became recognized as one of the league’s most clutch playoff producers, scoring 11 game-winning goals over four consecutive playoff seasons, and helped the Avs to the 2001 Stanley Cup championship. Drury’s heroics played a part in the unforgettable image of a grizzled Ray Bourque finally getting his fingerprints on Lord Stanley.
The clutch moments continued in Buffalo. Rangers fans are still haunted by Drury scoring a tying goal with 7.7 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sabres eventually eliminated the Blueshirts in six games. So, naturally, expectations went through the roof when Drury put pen to paper on a five-year, $35.25 million contract to join the Rangers later that summer.
Before Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, Drury was the high-priced import that was asked to roll back the years to 1994 by delivering a Cup parade through the “Canyon of Heroes.” Once the pileup of injuries began chipping away at Drury’s health and production, fans and media alike used that mammoth $7.05 million cap hit as ammunition to declare him an all-time Ranger bust. Though he slumped through his final two seasons, Drury was undeserving of the scorn levied at him during his four-year stay in Manhattan.
Did his dipping performance and albatross contract hamper the Rangers in his final years? No doubt. Was Drury a flat-out bust? Certainly not. He posted a respectable 114 points in his first two seasons as a Ranger, missing only one regular season game over that span. Concussions and a degenerative left knee condition prevented Drury from replicating his Colorado and Buffalo successes in the Big Apple.
A quiet and dignified character, Drury went about his business similar to his childhood idol Don Mattingly. Wearing number 23 in honor of “Donnie Baseball,” Drury let his game do the talking. His professional example rubbed off positively on Rangers youngsters, including Ryan Callahan, who succeeded Drury as captain.
“The way he approaches the game, and the way he was so professional on and off the ice, the way he carried himself,” Callahan said in 2011. “He never got too high, never got too low, and he was always in the room with an even keel, and at times, if he needed to be emotional with the team, he would be. He approached the game the same way every night.”
As former general manager Glen Sather noted, getting the chance to play alongside Drury was beneficial to younger teammates. Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Derek Stepan and current captain Ryan McDonagh remain from Drury’s time with the Blueshirts.
“Throughout his career, Chris Drury was always a great competitor, a tremendous leader and teammate, and the heart-and-soul type of player that every team would love to have,” Sather said following Drury’s 2011 retirement. “His commitment, determination and will to win were apparent each and every day. Those characteristics will have a lasting impact on all those who were fortunate enough to learn from Chris over his 12 years in the National Hockey League.”
Drury, Callahan, Richards, and St. Louis are all gone, but each had their ways of leading and delivering lessons that helped shape the Rangers’ dressing room culture.
Drury is the only person to win the Stanley Cup, the Calder Trophy, the Hobey Baker Award, and a Little League World Series title. He earned silver medals at the 2002 and 2010 Olympic Games. While his time with the Rangers will remain a topic of debate, even the boldest Drury critic must admit he had a tremendously successful professional and international career.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey