Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 11/07/07 at 05:23 PM ET
Mark Messier participated in a media conference call today, answering questions as he prepares to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, November 12th.
In 25 NHL seasons Mark played in 1756 regular season games, the second highest total ever, trailing only Gordie Howe. He recorded 694 goals which is seventh all-time, and 1,193 assists, third all-time. His total of 1887 career points places him second all-time behind only former teammate Wayne Gretzky.
He won the Stanley Cup six times, the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1984, the Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League’s most valuable player in 1990 and ‘92, and he appeared in 15 NHL All-Star Games.
Below is a transcript of today’s interview, plus a video selection of his career highlights, provided by NHL.com.
Q. I wondered if you could maybe outline some of the things that you’ve been doing since you stopped playing? I know we see you on Versus. But maybe run down some of the things that you’ve been involved in to give us a sense of that. And as a follow?up, whether being away from the game has changed your feelings about what your future with the game might be. Whether you’re still as interested in staying involved in hockey now as you might have been when you stopped playing?
MARK MESSIER: Well, I think the first part of that question is what I’ve been doing. I think when I retired I was fortunate to have two beautiful children, so that’s really been my focus since I retired. Which made my retirement, the transition, so easy. I was able to kind of take some time and be with the kids and Kim.
Also a lot of things that seemed to keep coming my way as far as leadership kept popping up into the forefront the last few years. And a lot of that has developed into that Leadership Camp that we do. The Tomorrow’s Children Fund is always something that I’ll be doing the rest of my life. Lot of initiatives there.
Of course, the Gold Effects Preventative Health Care Initiative we’re undergoing is taking a lot of time, but it’s a tremendous opportunity, and very educational one for me as well. And just, you know, being a dad. That’s been the best part of retirement the last three years.
As far as the second part, you know, hockey is what I know best. I feel at some point in my life hopefully that I have an opportunity to get involved. I’m not actively pursuing a position at this particular time. But I think at some point it would be gratifying and fulfilling to be a part of a championship team from a different position, and I look forward to that.
I feel that things and lessons and knowledge that I’ve gained over the last 25 years would position me well for that. And at some point it would be a lot of fun to get back into the game.
Q. Aside from the great teammates, what do you think were some of the factors that enabled you to have such success as a leader? And were there any events or persons in the formative years of your pro career that led you on that path to be a leader that you remember?
MARK MESSIER: I think there are a lot of factors that went into that. I’ve always felt that leaders are made, they’re not born.
I was very fortunate to have a father who played hockey and understood the game of hockey from every aspect from technical side to the mental side, to the leadership side. So, you know, I was well versed as a child growing up playing hockey.
I think as you go through your career, you realize that, and I’ve said it before, but you’re really at the mercy of the people around you when you play a team sport. I was very fortunate through my career to have played and been around tremendous people. Not only from a hockey standpoint, but from a life standpoint it taught me a lot.
I think through that you gain experience. You are faced with making decisions. Sometimes you make the wrong decisions, but hopefully you learn from them. And as my career kind of developed, I was put in more and more of a position to make those decisions.
But you don’t learn it without being in the fire and knowing what it takes and seeing what works and what doesn’t. And I think that’s how, ultimately, you position yourself to become a leader. Starting with the players that I played with, obviously, that have the shared vision and the commitment that it takes in order to win, to the owners and managers and coaches that I was able to play for.
Because in the end, nobody can win by themselves, no matter how much you want to win and how good a player you are, if you don’t have the support of the people around you, it is impossible to have success in a team sport.
When I go through this whole week, that to me is really what it’s all about. Reflecting on how fortunate I was to have the people supporting me through my career.
Q. And in the Rangers’ cup year, what sort of gets swept away with time ? late in the season you had some trouble, the pucks weren’t going in for you. I was wondering if you could take me back to that point in time? Were you pressing or did you have any concerns about your play, or did you have confidence with the team there and some of the deals that got made down near the deadline that things would be able to click once the playoff got started?
MARK MESSIER: I think as a player that is part of a responsibility of mine, obviously, to provide offense. I think Gravy (Adam Graves) had scored 52 goals that year, had set the team record for the Rangers. Our offense was going good all year.
But my design at that particular time really wasn’t focused ?? or my focus wasn’t really on myself at that particular time. Though I understood that I was a big part of the team and the offense, we were trying to get ourselves prepared the best we could for the playoffs. We were in a pretty good run for first place overall with some other teams, including the Devils. And we were trying to figure out how to balance ourselves for the playoffs. To remain as healthy as we could, and at the same time continuing on winning so we were able to have home ice advantage, which we did.
So it’s a real fine balancing act. And every player, you know, never likes to go through any kind of slump. But for me in particular at that time there, you know, my focus was more on how we’re going to see this thing through than it was on that particular slump at the time.
Q. So 25 years of playing intense, physical games exacts a toll, but you were able to play those 25 years relatively injury free. Now a player that played a similarly physical type of game was Eric Lindros. Can you talk about the toll that trying to play that type of game took on you and contrast that with what happened to Lindros who only averaged 58 games a year?
MARK MESSIER: Well, I was very fortunate through my career to only have minor injuries. I think I only had one surgery and that was late in my career, and it was only arthroscopic surgery on my shoulder. I had some stretched ligaments in my knees and some broken bones and things like that. But, overall, I was very fortunate to walk away from the game incredibly healthy.
Some could debate that, but (laughing). I know back then we did have concussions. We didn’t know then as much as we do about the concussions now is one thing, perhaps. And we just didn’t have the knowledge back then what we were faced with and what potential dangers we could have been causing ourselves.
And everybody is just genetically different. You can’t really explain it. In Eric’s case, obviously the concussions were an issue with him to the point where even if he gave a hit, it impacted him. And it’s just unfortunate that anybody has to go through their career like that.
For me, the worst part about being injured is you never really felt great condition?wise. Always having to fight back from injuries or what not. Any time I was hurt or missed any large portions of games, it took a long time to develop that condition that you need to be really on top of your game. That was one thing that was tough.
I really respect players that have gone through their careers with injuries like Joe Nieuwendyk and Steve Yzerman late in his career, and guys that played through injuries late in their career, because it’s not easy.
I don’t have an answer for that. I feel fortunate to have gone through it fairly unscathed. Wayne was able to as well, and a lot of other players.
But nowadays perhaps the players are so much bigger and stronger. There is talk about the glass being a problem. But I don’t really know what the real answer is.
Q. Your legacy in the league is well known amongst anybody who ever watched the game of hockey. When you look at a player like Lindros, what do you think will be his legacy after sort of a career that was curtailed by injury?
MARK MESSIER: When Eric came in the league, he really defined the modern?day player. I mean, 6’5”, 245 pounds, that could skate the way a 5’9” player used to. On top of that with the skill and a mean streak, he really epitomized what a power forward was and was going to be leading into the next era of hockey players.
As you can see now, now we have Zdeno Chara out there with skates on and his equipment, he’s probably 7 feet, almost 300 pounds. The players are a tremendous amount bigger than when I first started. Equipment has changed a lot. So I think all of that really kind of leads to maybe some of the injuries.
Eric was a guy that really kind of brought the big man, power forward skill guy to the forefront in the game.
Q. I’m wondering in your opinion after Wayne had left the oilers and you wound up leading Edmonton to their fifth Stanley Cup at that time ?? I guess what I’m trying to ask you is which was more satisfying? Winning it without him, or ending the streak with the Rangers, the 54?year drought?
MARK MESSIER: Well, I’ve been asked that question many times. What cup was the most gratifying, and I’ve never been able to give a definitive answer to that. They’re all so special for their own reasons.
I never felt happy that we were able to win a Stanley Cup without Wayne. I never felt vindicated that we were able to do that on a personal level. If anything, I probably felt sad that he wasn’t there to share it with us after what we had gone through with the first four.
I never really felt that I had anything to prove ?? I shouldn’t say “I,” I should say “we” as a team. Didn’t feel we had anything to prove as individuals whether we could or couldn’t win without Wayne. We just felt we had a responsibility to ourselves and our city to do everything we could and carry on that tradition we had established there. When we were able to win, there was probably more a sense of regret and sadness that he wasn’t there.
Obviously, the Stanley Cup in New York was very similar to the first one in that it was just so new to everybody. Nobody knew in Edmonton, you know, what to expect or how to react. I felt the same kind of pandemonium type feeling in New York in ‘94 as in ‘84 where it was such a feeling of sheer and utter jubilation and satisfaction for both of those Cups.
Q. I wonder if you could take us through what it was like, the oilers?flames battle of Alberta? And whether you think there’s anything quite rivalling those games in the NHL today?
MARK MESSIER: Well, it’s hard. I’m not going to get into comparing then and now. It’s so hard to do that. I just know that era there, there were a tremendous amount of hockey players proving to be some of the best players to have ever played the game. There was a tremendous amount of talent then.
The Calgary?Edmonton rivalry proved to be as intense as it was because obviously the rivalry between the cities for so long. Then the fact that they were building a team to try to knock us off our throne. And in order to do that, they had to build a team that could compete on every level.
In Edmonton we had a talented team, but we also had a very gritty team and a tough team. So we could play the way teams wanted to play. In order to be a champion, you have to beat them in the streets and beat them in the alley, too.
So when they started to develop a team to match up as well as a coach that could put the strategy or set the scores and the strategy, it became a war of wills at points, and the hockey became very intense. The rivalries became very intense. And there was a lot at stake, obviously.
I think we wouldn’t have been the same teams without Calgary pushing us to the heights that they did. And we wouldn’t be the same players. I think what they forced us to do is really examine ourselves and what we were really made of. Because they forced you to answer the call, you know, your internal courage had to be summoned each and every time you played. So they really pushed us to greater heights and to greater players through that rivalry.
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