by Marc Ciampa
Messier and Oilers winger Patrick Thoresen
Messier shares a laugh with former teammate Charlie Huddy
Number 11 takes the puck behind the net
-Photos by Andy Devlin Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
If the Edmonton Oilers were looking for a change of pace at todays morning skate, they got it in the form of a future Hall of Famer.
Mark Messier strapped on the equipment and skated on Rexall Place ice with his old team as they prepared to battle the Calgary Flames this evening.
"Were having an optional skate and its always good to have a player of his stature rub shoulders with some of your young guys," remarked Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.
It was the second time this week that Messier had put on the Oilers gear as he came out on the ice in full equipment on Tuesday night for his jersey retirement ceremony.
"He actually said to me that he understood why old boxers get trouble because when he put his gear on the other night when they retired his jersey he felt that he could play," MacTavish chuckled.
Messier has some added motivation to get back on the ice as he will be donning the skates on March 17th on a team of former NHLers going head-to-head against the Texas Tornado of the NAHL. Marks son Lyon plays on the team.
"Hes been warning me to keep my head up so Im going to get as much ice as I can before I get down there and at least not embarrass myself," said Messier.
Today was Messiers first opportunity since his retirement to actually get out on the ice and skate with NHL players.
"It just feels so good to go out and play. I havent had an opportunity in the last year-and-a-half, couple years to play all that often," he said. "I have my leadership camps which I get to skate in once a year but the bulk of my time is spent in South Carolina. I just havent been able to get on the ice as much as Ive liked."
Adding to the experience is the fact that tonights opponent is the Calgary Flames, a team Messier had plenty of battles with throughout the 80s and early 90s.
"I got a little nervous when I looked and saw the Flames equipment over there. I was thinking holy mackerel this is the real deal!"
Calgary play-by-play man Peter Maher jokingly asked Messier if he saw Joel Otto out on the ice.
"Ill always remember the days with the rivalries, both teams vying for the Stanley Cup and how both cities got behind their respective teams," Messier replied. "In a way I think it made us more aware of what we had inside of us and made us much better hockey players because of it."
The occasion was also a great thrill for the Oilers players, many of whom stayed out on the ice much longer than normal in order to soak up the chance to skate with the second-highest scorer in league history.
"Unbelievable. The guys a legend. Its incredible to just be on the same ice surface as him," exclaimed Zack Stortini with a huge grin on his face.
With only 15 career NHL games compared to Messiers 1756, Stortini was awestruck by the chance to rub shoulders with one of the games greats.
"Its an honour to be in the same jersey as him, getting a pass from him, its kind of cool," he said.
Stortini also noted that he was unaware that Messier would be skating until he saw him lace up in the dressing room.
"It was a surprise coming to the rink today. I didnt know he was going to be out there," he said.
Skating with Messier this morning made Oilers forward Toby Petersen remember the one game he played against the Moose.
He was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins facing off against the New York Rangers. Petersen remembered being elbowed into the boards twice during that game – once by Eric Lindros and once by Messier.
"It was an honour to be elbowed by Messier," he laughed.
Petersen was also unaware that there would be anything special about todays morning skate.
"I had no idea he was going to be out there. When I looked over and saw him I was pretty excited to see that he was going to come skate with us and work on his skills a little bit."
The only thing missing from the experience was Messiers trademark WinnWell helmet. Instead, he donned the unfamiliar RBK lid.
"They were looking for it. They thought they had one in the back room but couldnt find it. Theyre all in the Hockey Hall of Fame now," he said.
Overall, Messier summed up his return to Edmonton succinctly.
"Its been a great time. I was really looking forward to it starting when they announced the date. It gave me some time to start thinking about it. Ive been able to stay with Kevin, visit with him," he said. "Thats been very rewarding and memorable.
"Then coming out today, being able to skate. Its been a great experience."