An Edmonton road was renamed for former Oiler Mark Messier Monday at a lunchtime rally in Churchill Square, where hundreds defied the chilly weather to celebrate the career of No. 11.
Messier, who retired from the NHL in 2005, will have his No. 11 raised to the rafters when Edmonton hosts the Phoenix Coyotes at Rexall Place on Tuesday.
As part of celebrations Monday in the city, Mayor Stephen Mandel officially renamed the section of St. Albert Trail within the city's boundaries in the player's honour.
An emotional Messier told the crowd he has a special relationship with his hometown.
"To go on and to win five Stanley Cups here — and I don't think anybody could have ever envisioned any of that happening," he said. "And I can tell you one thing, I don't think any town has celebrated or been able to celebrate the Stanley Cups that we shared in this city, together with the community, more than Edmonton has over the years."
The president of the Edmonton and District Historical Society, Bradley McDonald,argued last week that renaming the road after a hockey player was a hasty decision that trades Edmonton's earliest days for the city's more recent history.
But Messier, who was born in Edmonton and played junior hockey in the bedroom community of St. Albert, said Monday the route is special to him and the name will honour his family for generations.
"I travelled that road many times and it was really my link between St. Albert and Edmonton," he said.
Messier, whois second behind Wayne Gretzkyamong the NHL's all-time leading scorers, joinsGretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhras the only Oilers whose numbers have been retired.
On Monday night, a gala fundraiser will be held at the Winspear Centre, wheremany of Messier's former Oilers teammates are expected to pay tribute him.