|New York Rangers icon Mark Messier sat down with NHL.com's Brian Compton for a very candid Q&A session.
Messier visits NHL Store
Messier scanned by McFarlane
“How’s it going, boys?” he said. After taking what seemed to be as much as a minute to collect ourselves, we were able to say “Hi!” in unison.
After all, it’s not often an icon — and a New York sports icon at that — strolls around the 11th floor at 1185 Avenue of the Americas. The biggest uproar around these parts is usually when we run out of coffee.
I had the privilege of sitting down with one of the greatest leaders this sport has ever seen for more than 15 minutes in a very candid Q&A session.
NHL.com: How closely have you been watching these playoffs?
Mark Messier: I watch them fairly intently for all the reasons that any hockey fan would. It’s exciting and I love to watch the games. I’m genuinely interested in what’s going on in the League, and of course, I have a lot of friends that I played with and against that are still playing. The storylines are always great.
As you get deeper into the playoffs, the mental warfare is always interesting and exciting to see how players and teams handle that side of it. There’s a lot of stories inside the big story in playoff hockey, which makes it great.
NHL.com: Dallas and San Jose basically played two games in one night with the four-overtime game on Sunday. How does a player stay physically and mentally sharp in such a situation?
MM: It’s tough. You have to have some experience, and the team has to have some experience. I remember a long time ago when we didn’t have a change of underwear, we didn’t have enough food. We were completely unprepared to do that. Now, teams obviously know what to expect, and there are so many different alternatives to supplement yourself with food and protein and hydration. That’s basically where that starts.
If you’re not hydrated and you’re hungry, that’s where your concentration really can wane. Other than that, it just becomes a battle of wills. Really, the whole playoff is a battle of wills. When you get into a game like that, it’s really who can dig the deepest and make the least amount of mistakes and has the courage to keep playing through all the pain and anguish that comes along with playing that much hockey.
NHL.com: What would your reaction be if overtime hockey was ever replaced by the shootout in the playoffs?
MM: I don’t think it would be a good idea in the playoffs. I think the drama that sudden death creates in the playoffs can’t be replaced. I understand there’s a tremendous amount of tax put on the players by having to play the way that Dallas and San Jose did the other night.
But in the end, that’s really what makes the Stanley Cup so special and what it means to be a Stanley Cup winner. You had to endure and go through two months of incredible mental and physical demand. It’s probably unlike any other sport in the world.
NHL.com: It didn’t last four overtimes, but where does that Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils in 1994 rank in your career?
MM: Obviously, it was a huge game for so many reasons. I guess what made it so special is what it really meant to the Rangers, to the Rangers’ organization, to the fans and to the city. That’s where it ranks. The way the Devils scored late in the game to send it overtime and then (Stephane) Matteau scoring the goal for us to win … it was an amazing set of circumstances the whole series. That game just culminated what was arguably one of the best series in a long time for the NHL.
NHL.com: Was it difficult to make the “We’ll Win Tonight” guarantee prior to Game 6?
MM: I never really look at it as being hard or whatever. I stated many times that as a captain, you’re always monitoring the emotional level of your team and the confidence level. You’re always trying to find ways to instill the confidence. At the time, I probably didn’t think it through well enough for what it really amounted to. But at that particular time, I didn’t really care. The only thing I really cared about was my focus and how we could really get the confidence back that the team had shown all year.
NHL.com: Have you seen any major differences in the game since you retired?
MM: This game is completely different from when we came back from the work stoppage. It’s better, obviously. We needed to change some things that were changed. The game is about entertainment. The entertainment value had been taken away because of the coaching. It needed improvement in the coaching area, improvement in the players, the parity and the rules. It needed to be addressed and I think the committee did a bang-on job of not jeopardizing the integrity of the game, but really bringing back the speed and the skill and the flair that makes hockey such a great game.
|"There was some inconsistent play throughout the regular season, but more importantly than that, they seemed to be able to win games when they needed to, and that’s really what you’re looking for from a team that’s being built to win a Stanley Cup." - Mark Messier on the Rangers|
Mark Messier: I thought the Rangers ended up having a good year. I think there were a lot of expectations on them because of the signings of (Chris) Drury and (Scott) Gomez. There was some inconsistent play throughout the regular season, but more importantly than that, they seemed to be able to win games when they needed to, and that’s really what you’re looking for from a team that’s being built to win a Stanley Cup. They were able to rally and win games when they had to. They got a lot of mileage out of the young players this year, which is always important. (Marc) Staal and (Daniel) Girardi and (Fedor) Tyutin probably became their best defensemen, which was huge.
Like any year, it’s so intense when you get into the playoffs — and when one goal is scored, it’s over. The only year that’s never disappointing is when you actually go on to win the Stanley Cup. I’m sure they’re disappointed, but they made some strides again this year.
NHL.com: Fans and media alike often compare you and Chris Drury as far as being big-time playoff performers. Do you see similarities between the two of you?
MM: I really like Drury a lot. I think he’s such an efficient big-game player. There’s no wasted movement from him. He’s a very smart player. He does everything well and plays in every situation. He has so much experience and he just leads by example. He’s tough and plays in the tough areas of the rink. He’s just not a real flashy player and he never has been, but if you look at what he’s done throughout his career and what he’s been able to accomplish and how he plays the game, the people inside that really know the game can respect what he has done and what he continues to do.
NHL.com: Some of the younger players, such as Brandon Dubinsky, played really well for the Rangers in the playoffs. How bright do you think the future is for this team?
MM: Dubinsky was awesome this year, and (Nigel) Dawes seemed to really come on a lot the last little bit. They’ve got a group of young players there that are really playing well. The experience that you gain from what they did last year and this year is invaluable. They’ll take it through this summer and get themselves prepared and have a much better idea of what to expect next year. You need that blend of experience, but you also have to have that youthful exuberance and creativity that the young guys bring to a team.
NHL.com: What’s the criteria for a great postseason player?
MM: I think you have to have the ability to remain strong through the tough grind of two months. Obviously, being smart. You have to be dedicated. It’s so easy when your backs are against the wall to say; ‘Well, we’ve had enough of this. Let’s try again next year.’ You have to be able to battle through those things, because you’re always faced with that kind of feeling at some point during the playoffs. You’re always battling internally of how far you can push yourself. The list of the criteria is long as for what makes a great playoff player, but you’ve got to be able to execute under pressure. That takes some experience.
NHL.com: I know you’ve always been involved in charity work. Is there anything you’re currently involved with heavily?
MM: All the same stuff. It’s been since ’91 that I joined up with the Tomorrow’s Children Fund, and I’ve really been proactive with them throughout my whole career and since I’ve retired. But a lot of other things, too. The Make-A-Wish Foundation — so many other things spurn off that, and you help out in the areas you can. But I decided a long time ago I really need to marry myself to one charity, and then help out as many as I could. But the Tomorrow’s Children Fund has been an amazing journey for me in so many ways. I look forward to continue working with them.
NHL.com: There have been rumors in the past regarding your desire to be a general manager. Is that something you would like to pursue?
MM: Yeah, there’s no question. I’m really looking forward to getting back into the game now. It’s been four years. I wanted to take the time when I retired to spend with the kids, being such a young family. But now we’re getting to the point where it would be fun to get back involved with a team and try to win a championship.
|Mark Messier feels he doesn't stand out as a sports hero, but as part of a team that was able to do something special in New York City.|
MM: I think it would be so hard to say one. I was fortunate to have so many, but I think you always look at the Stanley Cups … there’s no question about that. I think what you really look back on when you retire is the friendships and the acquaintances that you’ve met along the way, both with the players that you played with and against, but also the people outside the game — the people who work with the game. That’s things I really thought about the most, more so than probably what happened on the ice. Those are the things you really take with you in a lifetime.
NHL.com: So many great players go their entire careers without ever winning a championship. You have six Stanley Cup rings. Do you ever ask yourself, “How did I become so fortunate?”
MM: All the time, there’s no question about it. I came into the League with the idea that I wanted to just be a good team player, and try to figure out how I could help any team I was playing with. That was my mindset. When you have that mindset, you’re just basically willing to do anything you can to help the team. You kind of just try to be a good team player.
I was fortunate to be in the right situations. The people around me had the same kind of goals and aspirations that I did, and the commitment and dedication to do it. And then, the luck. Even when we were the best team by far, you still needed some lucky bounces to pull it all off. I think you have to ask yourself why, and I’ve done that often, even when I was playing. I guess you’re in the right position at the right time with a lot of great people.
NHL.com: Adam Graves will be the latest from the ’94 team to have his number retired by the Rangers. Where does he rank among your favorite all-time teammates?
MM: I think everybody knows what kind of character Adam is. There’s nothing fake about Adam. He really wears his heart on his sleeve, not only as a hockey player, but as a person. Because of it, he got so much respect from his teammates. Any time you can really rely on a person to come and you know they’re going to give you their best — it might not be good enough some nights, but you know it was their best — that’s a very comforting feeling to have, not only from a linemate, but from a lot of your teammates.
Adam really led us in that regard. He gave it his best every night. It really was contagious to the rest of the teammates. The way he treated people that he didn’t have to treat the way he did … other players see that happening and they realize that’s an important aspect of being a champion. Because of it, we had an awesome working relationship together on the ice, but off the ice as well.
NHL.com: How often do you get stopped by fans when you walk the streets here in New York City?
MM: I think what we were able to accomplish in ’94 after waiting for so long was really captured in the hearts and minds of the fans. But I think it’s not only what we did, but the way we did it. It probably made it even more important. There could be a lot of championships won in this town after that one, but maybe none will ever capture that kind of same feeling as that one did. Not only because it hadn’t been done for 54 years, but because of the kind of team that we had and the way we were able to connect with the fans. That’s what made it so special.
NHL.com: Finally, what’s it like to be an eternal sports hero in what many people believe is the greatest city in the world?
MM: I don’t really look at it that way. I look at it as being a part of a team that was able to do something special in this city. I’ve never really separated myself from my team or my teammates. But I know that I’ve certainly enjoyed every moment of it while it was going on and years after — to this day. I never get tired of the fans thanking me and talking about it. Everybody has a story from that Game 7 — June 14th — about where they were and what it meant to them. That stuff never gets old.
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.