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Messier humbled by induction

by John McGourty

Hockey Hall of Fame members applaud as they greet inductee Mark Messier during a pre-game ceremony prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs - New York Rangers game in Toronto Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007.
TORONTO -- It's been pretty apparent this week that Mark Messier has a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in him. Ferocious on the ice, driven to win, he's been soft-spoken and thoughtful about his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

There's plenty to brag about: Six Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe Trophy, two Hart Trophies and two Lester B. Pearson Awards. Messier played in 15 NHL All-Star Games. He had 1,887 regular-season points, second only to Wayne Gretzky, on 694 goals and 1,193 assists. Messier scored 109 Stanley Cup Playoff goals and added 186 assists for 296 playoff points.

They retired his No. 11 in Edmonton on Feb. 27 and in New York on Jan. 12, 2006.

In what has to be considered an honor just short of induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the NHL created the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2006. Chris Chelios won it last year, so the trophy named for Messier entered the Hockey Hall of Fame before he did.

In remarks to the media Monday morning, Messier never went near his numbers or his awards. He focused on his parents, mentors and teammates.

"What I've reflected upon this weekend is my family and the efforts that my mother and father took to get me to this position," Messier said. "All the people in minor hockey and friends that helped me along the way in those early years. In the National Hockey League, Glen Sather and the Edmonton Oilers. Stanley Jaffe and Bob Gutkowski and Neil Smith in New York and the entire Rangers organization. In Vancouver, John McCaw and Pat Quinn. Although they were tough years, they were an unbelievable learning experience.

"I just keep getting back to, in team sports, in general, you're really at the mercy of the people around you and no one can do it alone. For anybody to have success at this level, they need the support and belief of the people around them. I had that in spades throughout my career."

Quinn, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee, read the inscription on Messier's plaque: "Considered perhaps the greatest leader in all of pro sports, Mark Messier is the only man to captain two teams, the New York Rangers and the Edmonton Oilers, to Stanley Cup titles. The six-time champion's 25-year career is matched only by Gordie Howe for longevity and he finished with the second-highest regular-season point totals, 1,887, and playoff points, 295, in NHL history. Messier would twice be named NHL MVP along with capturing two Pearson Awards and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1984. After retiring, the NHL created the Mark Messier Leadership Award in his honor."

Messier won five Stanley Cups in seven years with the Edmonton Oilers from 1984-90, four with Wayne Gretzky.

"Wayne was the guy we learned so much from, not only from a hockey standpoint, but he was so far in advance from the rest of us in the mental side of the game and the preparation and what it took to be a professional. From the way he handled the media, the way he treated everybody equally, never looking down at anyone, those are lessons that you didn't always have that kind of knowledge coming into the sport.

"Even though he was the same age, he was light years ahead of us. We had the best teacher, telling us what it meant to be gracious and humble and compassionate to everybody that you come across. I know I learned a lot from Wayne there and I owe a great deal of my success to what I learned from him, on and off the ice."

Messier was dealt to the New York Rangers in 1991, and three years later led them to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. His guarantee of victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils will live forever in hockey lore. He is beloved in the Big Apple, but intimates New York gave him more than he gave to the city.

"When I went to New York, I felt it was a time that I not only needed a change in my professional career but also a change in my personal life, as well. ... The feeling that I got was that I needed to move on. New York obviously was somewhere I wanted to go, not only from the hockey standpoint, but also the aspect that I could grow as a person with all the diversity in that city.

"Through my time there, I developed a relationship and a kinship, if you will, with the people of New York. They respected the efforts that we put forward, the way we conducted ourselves as professionals. We were always approachable. Through the media, the fans got to know us as individuals, and because of that I think they were able to share the Cup with us. I think that's what cemented the bond that we share to this day."

Messier was asked to look around at the walls surrounding him, at the plaques of Honored Members who played this game 50, 75, 100 years ago. What are his feelings when he thinks about a young hockey player who visits the Hockey Hall of Fame 50 years from now and sees Messier's plaque?

"That's what really sets in through this weekend: What that really means. Sure, you get the call and it's a nice feeling, but when I landed here Thursday and immersed myself in this city and felt the impact that Canada and Toronto has on the game of hockey. All these guys, some of whom played 50 and 75 years ago before us, as people go through this Hall again 75 years from now and our plaques will be up there. That's pretty humbling to think that that's going to happen. That's what the game of hockey has provided us with, all these years."


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