MANNHEIM, Germany — Some things haven’t changed for Mark Messier.
The 49-year-old general manager of Canada’s world championship team strapped on the skates Thursday and went through drills with 12 of his players during an optional practice. The Moose looked pretty good on the ice and showed flashes of his former self by catching coach Craig MacTavish with a bit of an elbow — something he later claimed was inadvertent.
“They are always accidental,” Messier said with a laugh.
The GM is clearly taking a hands-on approach with one of the youngest teams Canada has ever sent to the world championship tournament. Messier has been spending a lot of time in the locker-room during the run-up to the event and was even helping lift equipment as the team made the move to Mannheim after a training camp in Hamburg, Germany.
His presence is certainly being felt.
“It was awesome having him out there,” said veteran forward Ryan Smyth, back for his eighth world championship. “He’s left a legacy not only in the NHL, but in Team Canada’s organization. It’s nice to see him around. You know, he puts smiles on the guys’ faces. He’s in there just like one of the boys — chatting away and making everyone feel comfortable.”
That job is especially important with six players on the roster who are 20 and under. Canada will be leaning heavily on its young players as it attempts to win the world championship for the first time since 2007.
The mood around the team seemed extremely upbeat as it arrived at SAP Arena for the first time.
Canada opens the event there with a game against Italy on Saturday (TSN, 8:15 a.m.) and will remain in Mannheim until the tournament shifts to Cologne for the playoff round.
Several of the players took some time to look around their new dressing room, with many stopping to examine the wall that features photos from each of the 24 Canadian teams that have won the world championship. It brought back some good memories for Smyth, who captured back-to-back gold medals in 2003 and 2004.
“There’s a few of them (with me) up there, which is awesome,” said Smyth. “This is the first time we’ve been down here and looked around. To walk into our room, it’s special to see the history that Team Canada has developed over the years.”
The goal is quite clear for the 2010 squad: They want to put their picture on the next championship wall.
“That would be it for sure,” said Smyth. “We put high expectations on ourselves, but we know that every country is tough and they play hard against the Canadians. We’ve got to make sure that we’re on top of our game.”
Even though it’s been six years since he stepped away from the NHL, Messier still looked pretty good during Thursday’s practice. He’s been on the ice a fair bit over the last year for various events and says he feels comfortable on skates.
It helps that he continued to place a priority on fitness after retiring.
“I try to work out at least four times a week,” said Messier. “It’s basically the same routine I did when I was playing, but probably half of the effort. I like to work out, I feel much better. I think it’s important for your overall mental well-being and emotionally as well.”
Before joining the team for practice, he made sure he wasn’t breaking Hockey Canada protocol and was told that Lanny MacDonald did the same thing when he was Canada’s GM.
Messier knows the team’s success will be dictated by how quickly the players become a cohesive unit and wants to help the process along. Plus, he enjoyed himself.
“It was nice to get a little exercise and get rid of some of the jet lag,” said Messier.
“It was a good opportunity . . . to get to know the guys a little bit better as well and spend some time with them in a little more of a relaxed atmosphere. It was great.”
And he wanted to make it clear that no one needs to worry about losing a roster spot so he can make a comeback.
“They’re all safe,” said Messier.