The look of leadership
He still has that 1,000-yard stare that serves as a precursor to trouble. The burning, almost painful, desire to win still fires him on a nightly basis, and the unwavering confidence in his skills and his team's ability remains.
In essence, Mark Messier, even at 41, still has it.
The "it" Messier possesses is hard to quantify, other than to say it has made him the most revered leader of his generation -- perhaps any generation -- in the sport of hockey. Like great generals or politicians, everything about Messier promotes blind allegiance and fidelity from others.
"Follow me boys!" his body language screams at all times, whether he is wrong-footing a snap shot for another goal, plastering an attacking player into the boards or addressing the media after a hard-to-take loss.
"As a captain, I think it's important that the players really know who you are and what you stand for, what your beliefs are, and to be consistent in those if things are going good or things are going bad," says Messier. "You always really have to remain consistent in your beliefs and philosophy."
Simply, Messier exudes confidence, a confidence that has become more intoxicating throughout the years. It is not unusual for a player in his prime to project an image of invincibility. But, it is a rare case that sees a 41-year-old, eaten up by close to three decades of hockey wars, still believe he can make all the difference.
That trait is what makes Messier such a great player says Ken Hitchcock, the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I think anybody who knows what he is about, as a person and as a player, it is like anything else, the player is one thing and you want that player to be effective," says Hitchcock. "But when you bring back a player in the twilight of his career, it is like everybody else around him all of a sudden becomes accountable.
"Sometimes it is easy when things are spinning out of control to not be accountable. You worry about yourself and things become political and you become guarded in your emotional approach to the game. When you bring a player like Messier in, he gets rid of all that crap that is in a room and he dissects it into the simplest form. In other words, compete hard, compete with diligence every night, and things will be fine. If you don't, then you get wrath. His wrath, believe me, is not nice. That is what he brings."
It is that innate belief in self and an insistence on personal accountability that has carried Messier ever since he joined the NHL to start the 1979-80 season. He jumped on the ground floor of an Edmonton team that would win its first of five Stanley Cups just four years later.
Messier's willingness to do whatever required to win, his ability to intimidate opponents with his physical play, was the needed contrast to a lineup laden with skilled players.
Just 18 when he joined the Oilers, Messier saw greatness all around him. He watched how those players went about their business, learning his lessons well as he begin his own journey to join the pantheon of hockey legends.
Along the way, he became a great player, but, perhaps, more importantly, Messier became a great leader.
The Oilers won four Cups in five years while Gretzky served as the team's captain and offensive superstar. After he departed in a trade with Los Angeles that shook the very foundation of the Oilers franchise, Messier rebuilt the team's psyche and led the reformed squad to the 1990 Stanley Cup; an achievement that cemented his status as one of the game's elite captains.
As usual, Messier humbly passes on the opportunity to revel in his individual role in building the Oilers' dynasty.