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Brian Leetch loves new way NHL game is played

Elsa Hasch /Getty Images

BOSTON -- On April 14, 2006, Brian Leetch played his last game in the NHL.

He was 38 and just completed his one and only season with the Boston Bruins. The longtime New York Rangers defenseman was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, and now the 47-year-old still laces up his skates as a youth coach and for charity events.

The game has changed since Leetch played, especially from a defensive standpoint. The days of clutching, grabbing and completely shutting down the neutral zone are a thing of the past.

"The rule changes have made a huge difference, because of the speed through the neutral zone has really increased," Leetch said. "There were always guys that could skate, but you weren’t allowed to because you were held back. Guys that played when I was there still were able to play with the new rules, because they could always skate; guys that could skate could play. You’ve got to be mobile. You’ve got to be able to move."

On Friday, Leetch participated in the first ever Comm Ave Charity Classic to benefit Compassionate Care ALS. Leetch, along with other Boston College alumni, played Boston University’s alumni and the event raised $55,000.

It was a who’s who of local NHL talent, including the New York Rangers' Chris Kreider (BC Class of 2013), the Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau (BC 2015), the Rangers' Kevin Hayes (BC 2014), the Tampa Bay Lightning's Brian Boyle (BC '07) and the New Jersey Devils' Cory Schneider (BC 2008).

Among some of the NHL’s best young talent, Leetch proved he can still handle himself on the ice.

"I only have a couple of these left in me," Leetch said with a smile.

And the first-hand look at some of today's stars wasn’t a disappointment.

"Yeah, I love it," he said. "My days are done. It’s their turn. To be able to go out there and have fun with them, and add the locker room feel afterwards, so for me it’s a little shot at remembering, as well as being a fan now. I got an assist on Gaudreau’s goal and told him, 'I watch a lot of those on TV' and he laughed. It’s a lot of fun."

Leetch spent 18 seasons as one of the game’s best defensemen. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 1988-89. He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman twice (1991-92 and 1996-97) and the Conn Smythe Trophy as he helped the Rangers hoist the Stanley Cup in 1994.

After Boston University alumni topped the Eagles 7-5 at Walter Brown Arena last Friday, Leetch sat in the tight confines of the visitor’s locker room and noticed how well conditioned the current NHLers are today. The Hall of Famer listened to the players talking about their offseason workout routines.

"It’s a year-round thing they’re working on and the game is a lot of fun," Leetch said. "It’s quick and I kind of envy them in a way because it’s the type of game that I enjoyed playing, moving the puck and the game moves quick. As a fan, it’s great to watch."

The game was in honor of longtime Boston College sports information director, Dick Kelley, who lost his battle with ALS in 2014. It also recognized the inspirational work of former BC baseball captain Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. He’s helped raise over $100 million through the "Ice Bucket Challenge" to find a cure.

Leetch didn’t think twice when asked to play in the charity game.

"It was great," he said. "I said, 'I’ve got to do this.' It’s a great cause and all I have to do is pass it up to these guys."