Mark Messier calls “No One Wins Alone” his memoir. But it’s really the hockey icon’s recipe for success, on and off the ice.
And given Messier’s resume, it’s no surprise he wrote the book on winning.
Known as the Moose, Messier won six Stanley Cups as well as the Hart Memorial Trophy (twice), Ted Lindsay Award (twice), Lester Patrick Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy in a glittering pro career that stretched from 1978 to 2004.
He captained the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, finishing his NHL career with 694 goals, 1,193 assists and 1,887 points in 1,756 games to rank third on the all-time scoring list behind former teammate Wayne Gretzky (2,857) and Jaromir Jagr (1,921).
“Like Gordie Howe, Messier is credited with being the most complete player of his generation,” reads his Hockey Hall of Fame biography.
The Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award, handed out since 2006-07, is given “to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season.”
The book focuses on Messier’s hockey career and not much more. That was a conscious effort with Messier acknowledging he saw books like Pat Riley’s “The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players” and Phil Jackson’s “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” as models that “many different people could read it and take something out of it.”
“I was fortunate enough to play on some great teams with some great people,” he said.
“One of the last things we that came up with was the name (of the book),” he added. “And I didn’t want to settle for any name. I wanted the name to really represent what the book was about. I think ‘No One Wins Alone’ really kind of says it all. it’s all about the people.
“I thought I played hockey for 26 years and what I realized when I retired is I wasn’t in the hockey business, I was in the people business.”
While Messier opens up on his interest in Indigenous cultures, spirituality, travel and even an unintentional experiment with magic mushrooms, he offers little on his private life — although there is a brief reference to his much-ballyhooed time with Madonna. “Interesting woman, but we went out only once,” he writes
“I don’t know if my personal life was that interesting,” he said with a chuckle in an interview.
But he is far more forthcoming on his hockey relationships, from teammates to coaches — on what worked and why.
“I didn’t want to be critical of anyone or anything,” he explained. “I wanted it to be a positive read about teamwork and leadership. And so trying to thread that needle and hopefully write it so it’s entertaining and a wide group of people could enjoy it, was what I was concerned about.”
For the most part, he delivers. It’s an easy read that will be of interest to both the hockey and corporate world.
“I think the beautiful thing about sport in general is it does give you life lessons that you can take with the rest of your life — no matter what level, any kind of team sport — the commitment, the accountability, the work ethic, the discipline, put-your-head-down-and-get-it-done grind mentality can serve anybody well post-retirement or in business or whatever,” he said.
Messier attributes his work ethic to his family, noting his father Doug combined hockey, university and a teaching job after a stint playing for the Nottingham Panthers in England. That kind of drive did not go unnoticed.
“It was hard to make excuses about not having enough time to get things done to a man whose days seemed to be 25 hours long.” Messier writes.
He also points to childhood family trips from Edmonton to a holiday home in Oregon, with seven family members and 80-pound sheepdog Tootie packed into an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. Lessons learned on such trip stayed with Messier.
“As a leader, you learn to accept and appreciate that each of your teammates might react differently to the same situation,” he writes. “With that knowledge, you can resolve any conflicts that arise from a place of understanding.”
He also differentiates between inspiration and motivation, saying “If you create a great place to work … where people are inspired by a shared purpose and goal, they will motivate themselves.”
He preaches respect, for teammates, coaches, doctors and trainers and others in the organization.
“What you do off the ice is all about respect, and it helps build a team,” he writes. “You have tor recognize that you’re all one entity, pulling on the same oar to get to the goal of winning.”
Messier says he was always curious about ways to improve mind and body and willing to ask questions when he failed, seeing it as an “opportunity to get to know yourself.”
“And of course I was playing with great players,” he said. “I played with the greatest player of all time for 12 years. Watching him prepare and the amount of time that he spent in the game, away from the game concentrating on the game, preparing for the game, focusing on the game, was enlightening to me. And then I just had to find my own path and what worked for me the best.”
Now 60, Messier is a studio analyst for ESPN’s hockey coverage. He has also campaigned long and hard for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, to occupy the Kingsbridge Armory space in the Bronx, in a bid to offer New Yorkers more ice surfaces.
“The same things apply,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to work with people and maximize the potential.”
“No One Wins Alone” comes out Tuesday.
“No One Wins Alone. A Memoir” by Mark Messier with Jimmy Roberts. Simon & Schuster, 344 pages, $39.99.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct, 25, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press