Mark Messier spent several years as Wayne Gretzky’s sidekick in Edmonton before becoming one of the greatest captains in NHL history.
Now Messier hopes his latest supporting role will lead to similar success away from the ice.
The former NHL star was one of seven people inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
Joining Messier in the Class of 2009 is world champion kayaker Caroline Brunet, ex-CFL quarterback Warren Moon, longtime Edmonton Eskimos GM Hugh Campbell, standardbred racing legend John Campbell, women’s hockey star Angela James and University of Victoria basketball coach Ken Shields.
Messier enjoyed a 26-year playing career, forging a reputation as one of the most intimidating players to ever lace up the skates — a role he relished. Now in his fourth month as a special assistant to New York Rangers president and GM Glen Sather, the 48-year-old is revelling in an entirely different challenge.
“I’ve been with the team, I’ve been with (the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford), I’ve seen the young kids, the administrative part of it,” said Messier.
“I’ve looked into a number of different areas, and so far it’s going well.”
Messier expects his new job to require him to draw from his playing days.
“I believe I can take the things I learned as a player and apply them into this arena, as well,” said Messier.
“The understanding I’ve gotten through 26 years of professional hockey will definitely help me.”
Few players boast a resume as robust as Messier’s.
The Edmonton native won two Hart Trophies as league MVP and made 15 all-star game appearances.
He also took home the 1983-84 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and finished with six Stanley Cup titles — five with the Oilers and one with the Rangers, with whom he finished his career in 2004.
Messier is second all-time in scoring with 1,887 points (694 goals, 1,193 assists), and his 1,756 regular-season games rank second behind Gordie Howe. Messier added 295 post-season points — only Gretzky had more.
Yet, for all the points scored and trophies won, it was his leadership that earned him the most respect.
He guided the Oilers to the 1990 Stanley Cup title after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles, and his win with the Rangers in 1994 ended the franchise’s 54-year championship drought.
He remains the only player in league history to captain two different teams to Stanley Cup wins.
Understandably, Messier has strong opinions on which players are suitable to captain an NHL team — and he isn’t keen on seeing young players assume the role.
“I’m a little bit leery of making kids captains too early,” said Messier, who first wore the “C” at age 27.
“I think there’s a maturation process that needs to happen. They need to be able to come into the league and be free of the pressures of looking after everybody else, and not just themselves.
“There are some players that can handle it and have that special quality, but overall I’d be very careful.”
Messier’s Oilers are considered by most to be the last true NHL dynasty. He noted similarities between the 1980s Edmonton teams and the modern-day Pittsburgh Penguins, but stopped short of anointing them as the league’s next dominant team.
“If anybody can do it, it’d be Pittsburgh, with the nucleus they have,” said Messier.
“But you look at Pittsburgh from last year, they probably still made six or seven changes off a Stanley Cup champion team. That goes to show you the amount of movement in the league now.
“It’ll be difficult to have a team win five Cups out of seven years, or four out of five. But Pittsburgh’s definitely the benchmark of what a team can do in this day and age.”
While he was out of hockey, Messier said he had aspirations of someday becoming a general manager. That remains his goal — and though he realizes he has plenty to learn, he doesn’t see that as a deterrent.
“The minute you think you need to stop learning, or don’t want to learn, you’ve got problems,” said Messier.
“I’m learning every day, so that’s what makes it fun to come to the rink.”