by Marc Ciampa
Mark Messier closes out the evening with rendition of 'Suspicious Minds' alongside Tom Cochrane
It was an evening fit for a king - or, rather, a Moose.
A who's who of people from Mark Messier's career as an Edmonton Oiler gathered together to stir up old memories about the good old days at the Winspear Centre on Monday night. View the Mark Messier Gala Photo Gallery
In front of delighted onlookers in the capacity crowd, former Oilers such as Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe and many others came together along with Edmonton's native son and future Hall-of-Famer Mark Messier.
The stage was set perfectly with a scoreboard directly above reading 11:07 to signify both Messier's number and the year in which it was retired.
To stage left was a setup similar to the Oilers dressing room in the 1980s with Messier's jersey hanging in the furthest left stall. On stage right, a trophy case with miniature replicas of every trophy Messier earned during his time in the National Hockey League.
The evening opened with host Ron MacLean making his opening remarks. The Powder Blues Band then went into a cover of The Tokens' 1961 hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" with the video board displaying other facts from the year Messier was born.
Messier then arrived to a standing ovation and made some comments.
"I was so excited Edmonton was going to get an NHL franchise," he said. "Little did I know I was going to be drafted by them."
The first guests of the night to greet the Moose were his father, Doug Messier, and Glen Sather, the mentor of Mark's early professional career.
The first Oilers captain and first number retired by the franchise, Al Hamilton, was next. He presented both Mark and his father with Oil King jackets in addition to exchanging some stories about Mark's early years.
The Powder Blues Band then went into a three-song set including their hit "Doing it right on the wrong side of town" before Messier's longtime teammate - 1,007 games to be precise - Kevin Lowe took the stage.
Lowe had an amusing story of when he and Mark took the Stanley Cup to the Bruin Inn in St. Albert back in 1984. Lowe had a new Mercedes at the time.
He said to Messier: "You can't put (the Cup) on my new leather seats" so it was placed in the trunk. When the Cup arrived at the bar, there were maybe three people there.
"Within 15 minutes the place was absolutely packed," chuckled Messier.
Next up, Messier was greeted by members of the media including Terry Jones, Jim Matheson, Rod Phillips and former Oilers PR man Bill Tuele.
Although Tuele made sure to note that "these boys paid me an awful lot of money to not tell stories" he had one of the more amusing barbs of the night, involving Messier coming to golf with former US President Gerald Ford wearing a bathing suit, flip flops, a t-shirt and no golf clubs.
Throughout the evening, video highlights were shown of various aspects of Messier's career. At one point, that moment was Messier's 50th goal from the 1981-82 season.
"That was the last time I ever celebrated any kind of individual accomplishment," he remarked, noting that the Oilers had lost to the L.A. Kings in the first round that year.
Colin James then closed out the first half of the evening with a three-song set.
Local celebrity Jim Jerome opened the second half with several amusing stories that had the audience in stitches, including Messier showing up at the wrong wedding one time but the bride-to-be still grateful he came.
Jim Peplinski, a long-time rival of Messier's with the Calgary Flames, then came to the podium to share a few words about his Alberta counterpart. Peplinski summarized that Messier not only made the Oilers better, he made the Flames better since they had to step up to compete with his team or be embarassed on the ice.
More of Messier's teammates then took to the stage, including Anderson, Kurri, Coffey and Dave Semenko and shared a few stories.
Next up was Tom Cochrane, who himself had a Messier story to share.
"It was 90 below zero, almost as cold as the Heritage Classic," Cochrane began. "And Mark sees this kid freezing outside. So Mark goes over there and gives him his jacket."
Cochrane went on to play "Big Leagues" and "Life is a Highway" before giving way to former Messier teammate and current Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.
MacTavish commented on Messier's leadership style.
"Mark did what nobody has done before, and nobody has done since," MacTavish stated. "Identify and connect with Glen Anderson."
Speeches from Oilers President Patrick LaForge and Daryl Katz, president of the Katz Group then followed. Katz announced that Rexall had made a $75,000 donation to the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation and Alberta Lung Association.
Then came time for Messier to deliver his final speech of the night. Both MacLean and Jerome donned rain gear and umbrellas in jest for the tears that were sure to accompany his words.
Certainly, there were some tears as Messier tried to sum up how much Wayne Gretzky meant to the team.
"He was our leader," Messier began. "There was a little bit of destiny happening here. We just became this perfect embodiment of a team."
After taking a long pause to collect himself, Messier continued.
"It's just so hard to talk about without getting emotional," he said. "It's a humbling experience to be honoured in this way."
Messier closed out the evening with a rendition of 'Suspicious Minds' alongside Cochrane, putting to an end a great evening for everyone involved.
From the fans to the Oilers alumni, coaches, media and even Messier himself it was certainly an evening to remember. It was also a tremendous evening for the charities involved, including the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.