"The '94 Cup in New York was very special in a lot of ways; obviously for what it did for the people here in New York, the lifelong Ranger fans and the organization, but I think it really captured a lot for hockey in the USA as well." -- Mark Messier
He was a legend in Edmonton and known universally as one of the best hockey players in the world, but that didn't do much for kids playing hockey in rinks, on streets and in parks across America.
Then, on Oct. 4, 1991, Messier, Albertan born and trained, came to Broadway, forever changing hockey in New York.
Eighteen years later, the captain and heart and soul leader of the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team still hasn't won the lottery (to our knowledge), but he is being honored for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States with the Lester Patrick Award, which he'll receive at a dinner in New York's Gotham Hall on Oct. 21.
Former Rangers teammate and USA Hockey legend Mike Richter, along with long-time Red Wings executive Jim Devellano, will be honored at the same dinner.
"The '94 Cup in New York was very special in a lot of ways; obviously for what it did for the people here in New York, the lifelong Ranger fans and the organization, but I think it really captured a lot for hockey in the USA as well," Messier told NHL.com. "To be a part of that Rangers team that captured the imagination of a lot of people, many who weren't even interested in hockey, was especially good for youth hockey in the U.S."
Messier obviously played a huge role in all of that. He not only was the on-ice leader, but the inspirational leader for the team and its gaggle of fans across the tri-state area. He said what he believed, guaranteeing a win against New Jersey in Game 6 of the conference finals, and backed it up with his remarkable play.
"Saying those things from the heart are great, but being able to follow through with it is tough and Mark was able to do that," Richter told NHL.com. "Legends are born out of truth and he was it and did that by leading by example. He inspired players, coaches and fans with his actions."
These days, Messier still is trying to lead, inspire and make an impact on hockey in New York, only in a far different capacity than he did when he wore the "C" on his Rangers sweater.
Hired over the summer to be the special assistant to president and GM Glen Sather, No. 11 is a rookie all over again. He's learning the business of hockey on the fly, cycling through the Rangers' front office to figure out how things work in all departments.
Where he'll eventually end up remains, as Messier said, "absolutely undecided," but he's determined to figure it out so he can continue to serve the hockey community in the Big Apple.
"It's nice to be back in the ring with the bull, so to speak," Messier said. "I am getting a great overview of the whole organization and that's what the idea was for me this year, to come in and get a sense of how an organization is run from a lot of different departments.
"There is no thought of where it's going to lead me, and of course, I don't know because I have never been in the position. Over time that will sort its way out and we'll work through it, but right now I like it because I can move through different areas."
Twenty-five years as a player taught Messier a lot about how the business side of the game works, but things are so much different now that he knows it'll take time for him to fully capture everything he needs and wants to learn before finding his niche.
"It's a big operation and a lot of people are responsible for putting the best product on the ice possible," Messier said. "You need not only your team on the ice, but your team off the ice working together with a single goal in mind. There are a lot of people grabbing an oar and rowing at the same time to make it happen."
He's with the Rangers to work.
He's been to Hartford on a number of occasions already to watch the club's American Hockey League prospects. He's done various things with and for the team's administration and he's at all of the Rangers' local games.
He's also a regular at the team's suburban training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y.
"I'm in it to make a difference somehow, to make the organization better," Messier said. "Once you get yourself back in the ring, you are in it to win. You want to be a part of a winning team, so the first question you ask yourself is, 'What can I do to help?'
"I'm content with what I was able to do (on the ice) and now I'm looking forward to winning a championship in a different capacity."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.