It’s All About The Smiles For Charitable Graves

If you’d never seen a single one of the 280 goals he scored as a Ranger, or one of the uncounted thunderous hits, or if you didn’t know he was a record-setting player for the 1994 Stanley Cup champions, you still might consider Adam Graves an all-time great.

Certainly, thousands of kids and their families think of Graves that way, never having even seen him play.

What they know about Graves is what we all know about him: That he is, and always was, one of the most caring, giving athletes we’ve ever known.

His reward: A smile. That’s all he needs in return.

Graves, long before he retired in 2003, gave and gave and gave. In 2006, he was part of the formation of the Garden of Dreams Foundation, of which he is a board member.

Graves, now 49, won’t say how many charitable events he attends in a year, politely keeping it at “dozens” when we can assume it’s probably three figures.

Coming soon, the Garden of Dreams will host two of its bigger events – Garden of Laughs, an A-list night of stand-up comedy at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on March 28. "Garden Of Laughs" Benefit Graves 012615 Getty

The program features comics Bob Saget, Leslie Jones, Sebastian Maniscalco, Tracy Morgan, John Oliver and Chris Rock, and is hosted by Steve Schirripa. Presenters include Garden of Dreams Foundation board member Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, along with Mark Messier, John Starks, Justin Tuck, Matt Lauer, Spike Lee and, of course, Graves.

Would Graves and Messier be doing stand-up?

“I certainly know what I don’t know, which is a lot,” Graves laughed. “We have, in the past, been presenters. We certainly aren’t (up there) entertaining.”

These fundraisers, and many of the nearly 500 events the Foundation hosts, are right in Graves’ wheelhouse.

“In life, there’s not a greater gift that you can give to someone than a reason to smile,” Graves said. “We all love to laugh. That is a great joy of life, to laugh and to smile. And to go to the Garden of Laughs, you have some of the most talented people in the world that are giving their time to support the Garden of Dreams. All these people who are kind enough to come out … the bottom line is, when you come to the Garden of Laughs, it’s an unbelievable show. You have some of the most talented people in the world involved.”

[The show is sold out, but fans can visit to bid on the last four seats and other amazing experiences such as tickets to other shows, and meet-and-greets with such stars as Howard Stern, John Oliver, Jake Gyllenhaal and more! All proceeds earmarked for the Garden of Dreams Foundation.]

Then, on April 3, is the Garden of Dreams Talent Show at Radio City Music Hall, in which, per the Foundation’s website, more than “125 children will perform with talent, emotion and passion, forgetting their problems and celebrating their unique voices.” Admission is free and open to the public.

“It’s one of those experiences for those kids that they’ll never forget, nor would their moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents,” Graves said. “It’s terrific.

“It’s emotional in a lot of ways because there’s so much joy for what is a fantastic accomplishment for anyone that is fortunate enough or talented enough to have an opportunity to play at Radio City Music Hall, and to do it in front of your friends and family. Especially for some of these kids that have had to overcome so much to have this opportunity, it’s an incredible, incredible experience.

“For me, I just think of the joy and the pride that these kids have, being up there. It’s a dream come true in a lot of ways. And they knock it out of the park. They’re incredibly talented and they deserve to be up on that stage.”

Graves’ charitable side is legendary, and charity began at home, having grown up in Toronto in a family that took in 40 or so foster children. During his 10-year Rangers career, it was he who knocked it out of the park on the rink, and especially away from the rink.

His Toys for Tots marathons were legendary as was his work with Family Dynamics, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Dime Hometown Heroes and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

He won the Ceil Saidel Memorial Award from the team’s fan club seven times; the Steven McDonald Extra Effort award five times; the team’s annual MVP twice; the coveted Players’ Player award from his teammates four times; the NHL’s prestigious King Clancy Memorial Award for humanitarian contributions in the community, and the NHL Player Foundation award to the player who “applies the core values of hockey – commitment, perseverance and teamwork – to enrich the lives of people in his community.” Graves also won the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.

Oh, by the way, he was a pretty good player – a two-time Stanley Cup champion who happened to set a franchise record for goals (52) in a season, and happened to do it during the season the Rangers won the Cup.

He remains extremely active in the hockey operations with the Rangers, where he is involved in the scouting combine, development camp, Traverse City prospects tournament, scouting meetings, the entry draft, scouting young prospects and minor-leaguers in Hartford and Greenville, NC, as well as Canadian college players. Graves was part of Team North America’s staff in the World Cup of Hockey.

You wonder where he finds the time.

“We have close to 500 (Garden of Dreams) events a year,” Graves said. “We have the prom (kids who face obstacles are outfitted by people in the fashion industry and attend a high-school style prom), the different makeovers at community centers, basketball courts, at hospitals, the week of camp – Dream Week where one day might be dedicated to the Rangers, one day we might go down to Madison Square Garden and see a concert, (be on) the red carpet. It’s something they’ll never forget.

“Hundreds of thousands of kids have been part of our program, and the neat part is, once kids become part of the Garden of Dreams, they essentially are part of the bigger family and they go to multiple events. And over the years, personally, you get to see these kids on a consistent basis and you form a relationship with them, and they become part of the bigger family at Madison Square Garden.”

Graves also is involved with events such as Junior Rangers, the Learn to Play program at 11 different partner rinks (kids get 12 weeks of instruction and affordable equipment, head-to-toe), and Try Hockey for Free.

Others include GDF-partner programs, i.e. the Skate with the Greats for Ronald McDonald House, Ice Hockey in Harlem, Make-A-Wish, SCO Family of Services Ottilie Residential Treatment Facility, and a foundation co-founded in 2012 by the Graves family in Canada called “Smilezone” – fun areas built in hospitals and children’s centers.

“The greatest gift the game has given me is the people I’ve met along the way,” Graves said. “And I would tell you that I love the game. If there’s one thing I love more than the game, it’s what it can do for the community and for kids. I mean that. And Garden of Dreams is an unbelievable platform for allowing all of us to do that.”

Just wow. All for the cost of a smile.