Blessed with strength, skill and speed, Messier was the quintessential Canadian hockey player. (Getty Images)
Honouring No. 11
The Oilers pay tribute to hockey's ultimate leader
By Tony Care and Rob Sinclair, CBC Sports
On Monday night, Mark Messier will become only the fifth Oiler to have his jersey retired but Wayne Gretzky knew The Moose was destined for greatness long before he became the heart and soul of Edmonton's 1980s dynasty.
Shortly after the pair joined the Oilers in 1979 and long before Messier began racking up individual awards and legendary playoff performances Gretzky sensed his teammate would develop into something special.
"On the ice, he had a love and a passion for the game. You knew, at 18 years old, it was just going to be a matter of time because of his great skating ability and his physical size. You could see he was a man," said Gretzky, who played with Messier for nine seasons on the Oilers roster including four Stanley Cup wins.
"I once said he's a son of Edmonton and I was sort of an adopted son," Gretzky, who is from Ontario, quipped of his former teammate from St. Albert, just northwest of Edmonton.
When Messier's No. 11 is retired at Rexall Place, he will join Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr as the only Oilers bestowed with the honour.
Messier, blessed with size, skill, speed and unrivalled intensity, earned a reputation as one of the most intimidating players of his generation.
Few players proved more explosive and more punishing than The Moose, as he was known. Whereas Gretzky was magical, Messier was a frightening sight at full steam, hurtling up ice like a runaway freight train and unleashing a laser-like wrist shot destined for the far post.
"He truly loved the game," Gretzky noted. "He was the best player I ever played with and it was a pleasure to play with him."
'I don't think anybody ever did it better': Kevin Lowe
Messier was as productive as he was tenacious, finishing second overall behind the Great One in regular-season points (1,887) and playoff points (295).
A 16-time all-star, he scored 694 goals in 1,856 games over 25 NHL seasons with the Oilers (1979-1991), New York Rangers (1991-1997, 2000-2004) and Vancouver Canucks (1997-2000).
Messier was integral to the Oilers' first Stanley Cup championship in 1984, winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. (Associated Press)
Most importantly, Messier won six Stanley Cups and is the only player to captain two franchises to Stanley Cups Edmonton in 1990 and New York in 1994.
"With Mark, it was all about winning," said Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, who played alongside Messier on all six championship teams.
"His whole game was channelled and focused that way. I don't think anybody ever did it better in the history of the game."
Single-handedly 'dragged' Rangers to Cup
It's the second time that Messier will have his number retired.
One of the most respected captains in pro sports history, Messier was the fourth player to have his number retired by the New York Rangers, on Jan. 12, 2006.
Rod Gilbert (7), Ed Giacomin (1) and Mike Richter (35) are the others, but Messier's impact on the New York sports scene puts him on a loftier pedestal occupied by Babe Ruth, Joe Namath and Willis Reed.
"He'll be forever remembered as the hockey version of those guys," said Gretzky. "Bringing a championship to the town was all that it was about."
Neil Smith was the general manager who brought Messier to New York in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 4, 1991. From the moment he arrived on Broadway, Messier was a smash hit.
"The guy came in and he was more than you could have wished for, right off the bat," Smith recalled.
"He literally grabbed the team by the collar and just dragged it up in the standings."
Messier said he wasn't intimidated about coming to New York.
"I was ready for just about anything that anybody could throw at me," he said. "I was ready for the challenge of winning the Stanley Cup. I was ready for this city."
Added Gretzky: "He changed the mindset for the whole [Rangers] organization, that nothing less than winning is important."
New York's Stanley Cup triumph in 1994 ended 54 years of futility for the long-suffering Rangers and transformed Messier from local hero to living legend.
"He had no fear about staring down the 1940 taunts: he stared down that adversity," said Rangers goaltender-turned-broadcaster John Davidson.
"He tried to knock it off. And he did."
Bravado backed by spellbinding play
Trailing the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in their best-of-seven semifinal series, Messier boldly guaranteed a Rangers win in Game 6 and backed up the bravado with a spellbinding performance at the Meadowlands.
"We're going to go in there and win Game 6," he said at the time.
"We've responded all year. We've won games we've had to win.
"We know we're going in there to win Game 6 and bringing it back for Game 7. We feel we can win it and we feel we are going to win it."
Down 2-0 in the second period, Messier single-handedly rallied the visiting Rangers by assisting on Alexei Kovalev's goal then notching a third-period hat trick for a 4-2 win.
"When he scored the third goal his hat-trick goal into the open net I just shook my head, almost in disbelief," Lowe said.
Triumph 'had Gordie Howe written all over it'
Messier's play on Broadway was legendary, earning him a spot alongside beloved New York stars like Joe Namath and Reggie Jackson. (Associated Press)
The Rangers won Game 7 in double-overtime to reach the finals, then went on to vanquish the Canucks, also in seven games, for their first Stanley Cup since 1950.
"The 1994 Rangers-Devils series made Messier a permanent New York sports icon," wrote Manhattan-based author Stan Fischler.
"Down three games to two, predicting a Rangers win and, then, personally delivering it said it all about Mark Messier. It had Gordie Howe written all over it and it doesn't get any better than that."
How fitting then that Messier, No. 11, retired just 11 games shy of Howe's NHL record of 1,867 games played.
"I never thought about any individual records," Messier explained. "Coming back [in 2005-06] to break any records, especially that record, wasn't all that appealing to me."
Messier confirmed his retirement as the Rangers reported for training-camp physicals in the fall of 2006, but essentially bid fond farewell on March 31, 2004 New York's final home game prior to the year-long lockout of NHL players.
He had almost 18 months to plan a retirement party, yet simply called it a career over the phone. During the conference call, Messier was asked why he resisted a formal media conference.
His response? "No one wants to see a blubbering idiot at the podium."
Jan. 18, 1961
Hometown: Edmonton, Alta.
NHL stats: Amassed 694 goals and 1,193 assists during his 25 seasons in the NHL. Only Wayne Gretzky has more
NHL teams: Played for three teams during his legendary career: Edmonton Oilers (1979-91); New York Rangers (1991-97, 2000-04); Vancouver Canucks (1997-2000)
NHL awards: Conn Smythe Trophy (1983-84); Hart Trophy (1989-90, 1991-92); Pearson Award (1989-90, 1991-92)
Stanley Cup rings: Helped the Oilers win four Stanley Cups (1984-85, 1987-88, 1990) and the Rangers to championship in 1994. No other player has captained two different teams to the Stanley Cup victories.
Messier said it:
"Other than my dad, nobody believed in me more and did more for me as a person and a player than (Glen Sather)."
"When J.D (John Davidson) introduced me as the next captain of the New York Rangers, I felt a tremendous pride."
"I remember saying to myself as the crowd roared, 'I will die trying to bring the Stanley Cup to the fans of New York.'"
"All I was thinking was to try to figure out a way how to make the players believe that I believed that we were going to win."
"Trying to condense the last 26 years into 10 minutes or one night is obviously difficult. I'm looking at it, I guess, as a celebration."
"It's my name on the back of the jersey, but I don't look at it as me being raised to the rafters because I don't think any one individual can stand alone."
- Edmonton names road for Messier
- Feb. 26, 2007
- Photo Gallery: The best of Mess
- Feb. 26, 2007
- Contest: Thanks for the memories Mess
- Feb. 23, 2007
- Messier's GM ambitions ruffle some feathers
- Feb. 9, 2007
- Oilers busy preparing Messier festivities
- Jan. 17, 2007
- Rangers retire Messier's No. 11
- Jan. 12, 2006
- Mark Messier Retires
- Sept. 12, 2005
- Messier passes Howe
- March 31, 2004