"Well Monday came, and with it just another reason to feel older. The announcement of Mark Messier's retirement officially closes the book on one of the greatest careers in hockey history.
It was smack dab in the middle of the Disco era (1978) when Mark Messier signed as an underage junior with the WHA Indianapolis Racers. The Racers struggled on the ice and at the gate and soon went out of business. Messier soon found his way to another WHA team. This time the Cincinnati Stingers. The Stingers were a team led by quick skating Robbie Ftorek and hard-nosed veteran Rick Dudley. On the blueline: hardworking Barry Melrose. Up front: future Hall of Famer Mike Gartner was getting his first taste of success. But for young Mark Messier it would prove to be a very long winter. Messier finished the season with just one goal in 52 games. But he was watching, learning each and every day. The lack of results might have been enough for many young players to start thinking about crafting a new career. But in many ways that season may have set the table for future success.
The WHA and NHL merged following the 1978-79 season. Messier would be drafted in a dispersal draft by his hometown Edmonton Oilers. Few thought he would develop into an impact player. But man did he make an impact! Over the next 12 seasons Mark Messier would be the heart and soul of an NHL dynasty in Edmonton winning five Stanley Cups.
Sure Wayne Gretzky was the center piece of many of those great Oiler teams, but Messier was without question the leader. He could play it any way you want. He could skate. He could hit. He was a mainstay of the special teams. He could intimidate. He played his finest hockey when it mattered most. But maybe best of all...he made those around him better. He raised the standards. He would be the first to call out an underperforming teammate. He was our generation's Gordie Howe.
It was the summer of 1988 when Wayne Gretzky, fresh off another Stanlety Cup, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. For many Canadians this is still seen as a dark day. For Edmontonians it appeared the glory days were over. But it was Mark Messier who helped mold a new group of youngsters into champions. Messier showed the likes of Adam Graves, Joe Murphy, Petr Kilima and Bill Ranford what it takes to be a champion as they marched to a Stanley Cup in 1990.
But times change and so did Mess. He wanted to test his skills on a bigger stage...New York City. Broadway is littered with failed athletes who were consumed by the pressures of the Big Apple. The Rangers hadn't won a Stanley Cup since 1940. In his third year with the Rangers Messier took his new team to the mountain top. Mark will never have to pay for a dinner in that city again!
Later it would be Vancouver. Then back to the Rangers. Messier's best hockey was clearly behind him. But his game was never about stats and awards. It was about victories. Yet Messier will finish with 693 goals (seventh all-time) and 1193 assists (third all-time) and 1886 points (second all-time to his buddy Gretzky). His 1755 games rank second only to Gordie Howe.
As remarkable as the championships and career totals was the way Messier played. He hit the ice with a fierce determination rarely seen. And he did it for 25 years. Thanks Mr. Messier!!"