Monday, September 12, 2005

Into the deep woods for the Moose

With twenty five years under his belt, Mark Messier will patrol the NHL ice no more. One of the most dominant players of our game, Messier called it a career on Monday as the changing of the NHL guard continued. In a week of high profile retirements, Messiers is perhaps the most expected yet at times unwanted. In New York his departure signals the end of another era for Rangers fans.

For the last few years it wasn't the same Messier game in and game out, and while he was a step or two slower and certainly not as physical as he once was Messier still commanded a presence when he appeared on the ice. A force to be reckoned with and a unifying figure for most of his team mates. He would be like an on ice general, urging his team mates on to greater glory despite the odds or the obstacles in the way.

His latter years have been more frustration than adulation, while he won a Stanley Cup with the much denied New York Rangers back in 94, he couldn't lead them back to the oasis again.

And while he seems permanently attached to the Rangers now, many still think of him as an Oiler forever. It was in that exciting mixing bowl of the eighties that Messier came of age in the NHL, he, Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Steve Smith, Jari Kurri Kevin Lowe and Paul Coffey to name a few, were the nucleus of that amazing Stanley Cup machine that brought many hockey fans to their feets night after night. The young bulls in Edmonton redefined the way the game was played and recaptured the spirit of the game for Canadians from the brawling ways of the seventies. To get a feel for those heady days of hockey in Alberta check out Peter Gzwoski's Game of our Lives, it puts you in that young Oiler dressing room just as the team prepares its assault on the NHL record books.

Messier first landed in pro hockey in Indianapolis, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio through the WHA's Baby boom days, players who tested the old way of thinking that eighteen and nineteen year olds weren't ready for pro hockey. As the WHA folded into the NHL, a relatively wise (or maybe he was just damn lucky) GM named Glen Sather began collecting young energetic hockey players and molded them into a template that has yet to be copied. Those years in Edmonton surely gave hockey fans many good nights of viewing and proved that sometimes you can't recapture lightning twice. There has yet to be a team put together that has grown together and eventually dominated as much as those amazing Oiler teams.

And so another big name has gone. The next we'll hear of Mark Messier will be an announcement of his enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Certainly an honour that should come the first day of his eligibility. 1,887 points, six Stanley Cups and perhaps the most important qualification, that of the ultimate leader should grant him a place in Hockey's hallowed hall.

It's been a hell of a run, a hard hitting, bone crunching, high scoring run. I'm just glad we were all along for the ride. But thankful that I wasn't in the trolley tracks when the Moose came down the ice.

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