Members of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2007 show off their new rings on Monday night. From left are Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Jim Gregory, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens.
In an emotional, 18-minute induction speech on Monday night at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Rangers legend Mark Messier thanked all of the people who helped him achieve Hall of Fame status and closed his remarks by sharing some advice to young hockey players.
Messier, the last of this year's five Hall of Fame inductees to address the audience, spoke through tears and had to pause several times to catch his breath as he looked back on his 25-year NHL career. The scene was reminiscent of his remarks on Jan. 12, 2006, when the Rangers retired his No. 11 in an unforgettable pregame ceremony.
Many of Messier's friends and former teammates were on hand to share in the moment, including Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather and Blueshirts great Brian Leetch, a future Hall of Famer whose number will be retired by the Rangers early next year.
Also entering the Hall on Monday night were fellow players Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens and Ron Francis, as well as longtime league executive Jim Gregory, honored in the builder's category. Each man spoke at length about his own career and took considerable time to mention those who had helped shape it.
Messier's speech was preceded by a tribute video that retraced his NHL years in Edmonton, New York and Vancouver. Although Messier actually spent more seasons in his hometown of Edmonton with the Oilers than with the Blueshirts, the video was full of Rangers imagery.
The graphical image leading into the video showed Messier in a Rangers uniform, the first shot in the video showed him playing for the Rangers, and the final shot showed his No. 11 going to the MSG rafters. The song "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes accompanied the images of Messier's career.
Armed with Kleenex, just in case he broke down, Messier began his speech by congratulating his fellow inductees, joking that he was pleased to see Gregory because he had "finally found somebody who was crying more than me this weekend."
Messier, the NHL's second-highest scorer of all-time with 1,887 career points, then talked about how the magnitude of his Hall induction didn't hit him until the day drew nearer.
"It was really when we started to get ready to come here for the weekend … that really started to put the importance of the weekend into perspective, I guess," said Messier. "I got an email from an uncle who I drew inspiration from throughout my career. He had e-mailed me a quote that said "We sail in the wake of those who have gone before us." There is no greater testimony to that than being here this weekend and being at the Hall of Fame."
Messier went on to thank all the people who worked at the Hall for "preserving our game" and noted that the weekend coincided with Canada's Remembrance Day, which honors the memory of soldiers lost in battle. He said he had found himself remembering so many things about his life in the days leading up to his induction and talked about the great Canadian pride he felt meeting with military veterans prior to Saturday night's Rangers-Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre.
Messier then began to thank individuals who had shared the journey to the Hall with him.
"There are so many people that it takes to put anybody in this position," he said. "When you play a team sport, nobody can do it on their own. They need the support from other people, and I certainly had that in my career."
After singling out everyone from his first youth hockey coach in Portland, Ore., to the parents of other kids in his minor hockey association back home in Edmonton, Messier began to speak about his NHL years. His highest praise was for Sather, his first NHL coach, who led the Oilers to five Stanley Cups in seven years.
Sather, said Messier, had a vision of "what he felt would be an amazing time for all of us if we could somehow figure out a way to stay together, which he somehow figured out a way for us to do for all those years. … To this day every one of them will thank Glen and what it meant for them the rest of their careers."
Messier then went on to mention several Edmonton teammates, including Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe, Andy Moog, Grant Fuhr and Jari Kurri.
It was clear that the Edmonton teammate who made the biggest impression was Glenn Anderson, who rejoined Messier on the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup team.
"I was supposed to be protecting him (Anderson), but I wasn't sure if he was the one that was supposed to be protecting me all those nights," Messier said. "I wouldn't be here without Glenn."
Messier moved on to discuss the New York portion of his career, noting that "what I found in New York was more than I ever dreamt of."
Crediting everyone in the Rangers organization from top executives to head coaches Roger Neilson and Mike Keenan, Messier, who captained the team for 10 seasons, noted that he was blessed to be surrounded by people who supported him.
"As great as the players were that I played with in Edmonton, the same thing was waiting for me in New York," he said.
Messier described longtime teammates Leetch and goaltender Mike Richter as "an inspiration to me every day I was there. Not only for the way they played the game but for what they shared with me off the ice."
Just as he made special mention of Anderson for his Edmonton years, Messier pointed out the special bond he had with Adam Graves, his teammate on championship teams with both the Oilers in 1990 and the Blueshirts in 1994.
"If Glenn Anderson rode shotgun for me for my first 12 years, then nobody did it better than Adam Graves. An amazing person and an amazing teammate," said Messier
Making brief mention of is three years in Vancouver as an important learning experience about what it means to deal with adversity, Messier saved his final words for his family, noting their closeness and the role they had played in shaping him.
"Thank you to everybody," he said. "Of course my mom and dad who have been an inspiration to me in so many ways. Especially my father for what he's been able to help me with, not only from the hockey standpoint. From life in general. Dad, you are a true leader."
After expressing deep thanks and appreciation to his brother and sisters, as well as fiancee Kim Clark, Messier turned to a recent quote from Richter about how sport is "about challenging yourself and improving yourself as a person. It’s not about looking for a medal at the end of an event; it’s about a journey in which your physical and mental well-being improves through physical activity."
Emphasizing the importance of Richter's sentiments, Messier closed with a message to hockey fans everywhere.
"For all of us that have children in minor hockey, it's not about becoming a professional athlete," he said. "It's about the journey and about what you learn along the way and the life lessons that you get from playing an incredible game."