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Garden rocks as No. 11 goes up to the rafters

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Game Recap: Rangers 5, Oilers 4 (OT)
Complete Coverage: "A Celebration of The Captain"

Mark Messier Night Video - January 12, 2006
(Courtesy of MSG Network)
Messier Arrives at His Celebration Watch
Mike Richter reflects on Mess' career Watch
Messier Thanks the Fans Watch
No. 11 Goes to the Rafters Watch

In the final moments of a 75-minute ceremony capturing all the love and respect the Rangers organization and its fans had for Mark Messier, the man known as "The Captain" lifted the Stanley Cup one more triumphant time and watched his No. 11 sail to the rafters of Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

As the people Messier will forever refer to as the "Garden Faithful" roared at decibel levels reminiscent of some of the Rangers' greatest on-ice moments, the banner-raising capped off a moving tribute that included past Blueshirts legends, the entire Messier family, and two dozen members of the Rangers team Messier led to the 1994 Stanley Cup championship.

Messier became the fourth Rangers legend to have his jersey retired by the organization prior to the start of Thursday night's game between the Rangers and Messier's his other longtime NHL team, the Edmonton Oilers. On this very special night, a sellout crowd of hockey fans packed the building not just for a game, but to be part of MSG's celebrated history. It was a nigh so charged with energy that for a moment, at least, the hockey game was forced to play second fiddle.

But there was still a game to be played, and if anything the Messier Night event helped to fire up the Rangers, who came back from a 3-1 deficit in the second period to beat Edmonton 5-4 on NHL scoring leader Jaromir Jagr's goal just 14 seconds into overtime. It was also a big night for the newest Ranger, Petr Sykora, who had a goal and an assist, bringing his two-game total with his new team to four points. Steve Rucchin, Jagr and Petr Prucha also had a goal and an assist for the Blueshirts.

For a complete recap of the game, click here.

The pregame ceremony, in the works since Messier announced his retirement as a player on Sept. 12, 2005, lived up to its billing as a true "Celebration of the Captain." Rangers broadcaster John Davidson, who hosted the first Garden introduction involving Mark Messier more than 14 years ago, was back at the podium to oversee an unforgettable evening. Highlights included video tributes, a parade of gifts, speeches by some of Messier's closest friends and teammates, a song performed by Dana Reeve, and, of course, the final banner-raising.

Clad in all types of Messier jerseys and carrying signs with slogans like "Messier Square Garden" and "Garden Faithful Love Mess," fans began streaming into the arena 90 minutes before the ceremony's 7 p.m. start. The anticipation continued to build as red carpets were rolled out onto the ice, and the fans enthusiasm reached a fever pitch as the lights began to dim with cameras flashing everywhere.

First up was a tribute video, honoring Messier's years in New York. Fans cheered throughout the video, particularly at scenes from the 1994 Stanley Cup victory celebration. Then, Davidson took the stage, proclaiming:

"Tonight we raise the banner, as only New York can, to the captain, Mark Messier."

Another video, this one of Messier reading a letter of thanks to the Garden Faithful, was shown on the scoreboard--leading into the long-awaited moment of Messier's own appearance at the ceremony.

His dramatic entrance onto the ice surface was captured by cameras and played for the crowd. The 44-year-old walked proudly down a long corridor, past all of the current Rangers, and out onto the ice, where he was showered with a long ovation and booming chants: "Mess-ee-ay, Mess-ee-ay." Clearly overwhelmed by the reception with the same sense of awe he showed when being introduced to these people more than 14 years earlier, Messier waved and bowed in appreciation to all four sides of the rink.

Next up was the introduction of the 1994 team, who came out wearing in their white jerseys. On hand were the team's architect, former general manager Neil Smith, former head coach Mike Keenan, former assistant coach Colin Campbell, and 19 players. The biggest cheers were reserved for the last player to appear, Adam Graves, who was one of Thursday night's featured speakers.

Joining the 1994 team on the ice were the three members of the organization who already had their numbers in the Garden rafters. No. 1 Ed Giacomin, No. 7 Rod Gilbert and No. 35 Mike Richter came out in their Blueshirts to another flood of cheers.

At this point in the ceremony, it was time to shower The Captain with gifts. From the 1994 team, he received a "fighting chair" that he could take with him on future deep-sea fishing excursions. From the current Rangers, he received world-class fishing equipment to go with the chair, while the three players with retired numbers presented Messier with a portrait of the 1994 team's parade through lower Broadway's "Canyon of Heroes."

The next gift came from the Tomorrows Children's Fund, a charity that Messier has helped raise millions of dollars for children battling terminal illnesses. TCF presented Messier with a sculpture of an eagle, which will be displayed in the new Mark Messier Skyway at Hackensack Memorial.

From Rangers fans and the event's presenting sponsor, XM Satellite Radio, a donation of $211,000 was made to TCF in Messier's honor, and from the Rangers organization itslef, the Messier family received a family trip to Ireland, which will allow the Captain to fulfill a dream of bringing the entire Messier clan back to its ancestral homeland.

Then came the speeches. The first to speak was Graves, who described the honor of playing with Messier.

"It was a privilege to skate alongside you," Graves said on behalf of the whole 1994 team. "It is an honor to us to be here to celebrate Mess the person, Mess the player, and Mess our friend and leader. ... He made us believe that the Stanley Cup was our destiny."

Another former Stanley Cup temmate, Brian Leetch, was unable to attend the ceremony due to his commitments to the Boston Bruins. However, Leetch had recorded some remarks on videotape, which were played for a crowd that was clearly thrilled to see his image in the Garden again.

Leetch told the story of the first time he ever encountered Messier, in what was only Leetch's 11th NHL game. Leetch said Messier gave him an early dose of his competitive fire, hitting him in a way that made him that much happier to have Messier join the Rangers three years later. He spoke of his deep and abiding respect for The Captain, who had been his close friend and roommate throughout their years with the Rangers.

"Your accomplishments on the ice will live in the record books forever," Leetch said. "But I just want to thank you personally for a great friendship over the years."

Richter, the final speaker before the Captain himself, also shared memories of Messier as both a player and friend, calling him "perhaps the most complete athlete to ever put on a pair of skates." Then, speaking on behalf of the other past Rangers legends, he said: "We are excited and humbled to share this place of honor with you."

The longtime Rangers goaltender spoke of Messier's incredible ability to take joy in another player's accomplishment, calling Messier "as much a fan as he is a player."

He then told a memorable story of the day former teammate Darren Langdon joined the team. Langdon had failed to bring appropriate clothing with him, which caused laughter among some other players. But Messier saw nothing funny about it. He went out and purchased a designer suit for Langdon so that he could feel welcome on his first day with the organization.

"He may know a little bit about winning," Richter said of Messier. "But he knows a lot about life."

At last it was time for Messier himself to speak. Overcome with emotion, much as he was at Wednesday's pre-event news conference, he thanked the people who had made his hockey career possible and reflected on how living in New York had forever changed him as a person.

"Tonight's celebration was called 'A Celebration of the Captain," Messier said. "But I'm not sure it shouldn't be called a 'Celebration of the Garden Faithful.' "

He closed by saying a simple "Thank you, thank you, thank you" as he raised his arms to salute the Garden Faithful.

Then Davidson introduced a special guest. Dana Reeve, whose late husband, Christopher, was one of the Rangers' biggest fans, came out to the ice and serenaded Messier with the Carole King classic "Now and Forever." As the song ended, Messier and his family walked to the Rangers' home goal area, where the No. 11 banner and the Stanley Cup were waiting.

Asked to lift the Cup one more time for the Garden Faithful, Messier obliged. leading to the moment when Messier lifted the Stanley Cup one more time on Garden ice and then watched No. 11 slowly go up to the MSG rafters, forever ensuring his place in Rangers history.
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