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Messier looking to expand legacy in New York

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- Mark Messier can't believe it has been 20 years since he led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship. A lot has changed in New York since then, but with the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since his magical championship run in 1994, Messier is looking to expand on his legacy in this city.

In the meantime, other than discussing the finalists for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone, his primary duty Monday at Madison Square Garden was to cheer on the home team during Game 3 of the Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).


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"I haven't been involved with the Rangers other than being a fan. My 10-year-old son is a huge Rangers fan. He'll be at the game tonight. We'll be cheering on," Messier said. "It's been a great year as a fan, easy team to cheer for. The good thing, and the lucky thing for me, is I got a chance to meet these guys over the last four years working with the Rangers. They're quality guys in that dressing room with a lot of character. It's great to see them get the opportunity they have right now because they earned it."

Trailing the Kings 2-0 in the best-of-7 series after a 5-4 double-overtime loss Saturday night, the Rangers have enjoyed their memorable run to the Cup Final, including a dramatic comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round. The Rangers dropped Games 1 and 2 of the Cup Final, each in overtime, but the man who famously guaranteed a win in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Final remains confident that the Rangers can come back as the series shifts to New York.

"If you look realistically at the first two games from the Rangers' standpoint, they should feel encouraged by what they've been able to accomplish. They haven't got the result, but they've been right there in both games. I think that's encouraging," Messier said. "I would say trust the process. Any must-win situation, you really rely on the execution. That's what they've got to concentrate on tonight. Don't get too far past that."

On the eve of the biggest game at MSG in two decades, Messier acknowledged he was purely attending as a fan. But just because one of New York's most revered sports figures doesn't serve in any official capacity with the team or the League, it doesn't mean he can't expand on his considerable legacy in the metropolitan area.

Since last year, Messier has devoted himself to the effort to transform the old Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a full-service ice center. Upon its completion in 2017, the Kingsbridge National Ice Center will be the world's largest indoor ice complex, featuring nine ice sheets, a 5,000-seat arena and facilities for figure skating and curling. As one of the key figures behind the project, Messier sees a unique opportunity to grow hockey all over New York.

"I always go back to '94 when we kind of transformed the game in this area on so many different levels. Here we are 20 years later, still without the same facilities. I just think New York deserves better," Messier said. "I made a deep commitment to this project and I think it's an incredible opportunity to do something very meaningful in the game of hockey for years to come. Long after we're gone, the armory will be there putting kids in the game. I think that is a very meaningful opportunity."

It's a lofty goal that seems more realistic in the hands of the man who helped bring the Stanley Cup back to MSG for the first time in 54 years. And the opportunity to build a winter sports hub in New York could ultimately extend Messier's New York legacy, which is still alive and well two decades later.

"It is incredible to me, here we are on the eve of 20 years," he said. "The diversity of people we touched in '94, riding the 4 train up to the Bronx and getting acknowledged in the Bronx, through Brooklyn, through the five boroughs, it's hard to believe [it's] 20 years later and still getting congratulated and what it meant to people."

Messier is focused for the time being on the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, but he wouldn't rule out the possibility of taking on another job in hockey, most likely after his work in the Bronx is done. He hasn't thought that far ahead, but a return to New York would seem natural for the hockey icon who, by his own admission, hasn't had to buy too many drinks in New York since hoisting the Cup in '94.

"I've had to pay for a few," he laughed. "But not many."


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