It takes distinct character for a former goaltender to carry the nickname ‘Red Light.’ Certainly not the most complimentary of names for a netminder by any stretch, but that’s Sal Messina for you -- gracious, good-humored and a true fan of the game.
But in life, all good things must come to an end. After gracing the Rangers radio airwaves for the last 29 seasons, Sal Messina is retiring to the sunny coast of Florida.
Being away from the rink for the first time in over five decades will be a difficult adjustment for the Astoria, Queens native who began tending goal as a youngster. But Messina knew that it was time for a break from the grueling schedule of the NHL.
“I’ve been lucky to do this for almost 30 years,” he said. “That’s a long time. It just got to the point where I said ‘Hey, I want to play golf. I want to relax.’”
Messina enjoyed the game of hockey and took it seriously. From the Eastern Hockey League’s Long Island Ducks to the New York Rovers to the Philadelphia Ramblers, the local kid never gave up hope of one day making it to the bigs.
Messina was cut by the 1963 United States National Team just prior to their leaving for Europe. However, in 1964 he played with a U.S. team from the EHL, which played in Russia and Czechoslovakia at a time when it was uncommon for any North Americans to play hockey in those countries.
His Rangers career was also unique. In the 1960's, NHL clubs only carried one goaltender and for the Blueshirts it was the legendary Jacques Plante. Messina went to the team's training camp, played in pre-season games, practiced with the club every day and served as Plante's backup for the 1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons, but never played or even dressed for a game. He is not listed as an active player in the Rangers’ all-time roster but is seated in the front row of two team photos.
Messina completed his playing career with metropolitan area senior teams before landing a position as an off-ice official at the Garden. He served as a goal judge, official scorer and penalty timekeeper and, more importantly, met Marv Albert. Albert, who was calling Rangers games on radio at the time, recommended that Messina become a commentator. After months of practice, Messina turned in his broadcast tape to Garden executives in 1973 and landed the job the following season.
The rest is history. Twenty-nine years later, Messina has decided to trade in his microphone for a fishing pole and a five iron.
“For all of us who have worked with him or just hung out with him, Sal is New York’s Mr. Hockey,” MSG analyst John Davidson recently told the New York Daily News. “I loved listening to him. There were nights on the road where we just sat and talked and talked. I’m going to miss that.”
So are the fans of the New York Rangers. Good luck Sal!