Messier scores, gets record 14th All-Star assist

Updated: February 11, 2004, 11:05 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- They call Minnesota "the State of Hockey," and, fittingly, the NHL's All-Star Game there reflected the state of its hockey, too. The trend to defense has spread even to the sport's showcase game.

In a relatively low-scoring game befitting what is jokingly called hockey's dead-puck era, 43-year-old Mark Messier turned back the clock and Joe Sakic scored three goals, but the goalies dominated in the Eastern Conference's 6-4 victory Sunday over the Western Conference.

"The goaltending was unbelievable, and we got a game out of it because of the goaltending," Messier said after four of the six goalies allowed only a single goal apiece. "Otherwise, I think it would have been up in the double digits for both sides."

Messier, who was winning Stanley Cups before some current All-Stars were born, had a goal and an assist and Daniel Alfredsson had two goals and an assist for the East to overcome All-Star MVP Sakic's hat trick.

If it was Messier's last All-Star Game -- and, perhaps the NHL's last for a while as it prepares for what could be months of divisive labor talks -- at least he left behind a lasting memory with his sixth multiple-point game in 15 All-Star appearances.

"There's no question he deserved to be here," Rangers teammate Jaromir Jagr said of Messier, whose selection was questioned for being more sentimental than reflective of his current skills.

Despite the big games by players (Messier and Sakic) with a combined 39 seasons of NHL experience, it was only the second All-Star Game in the last 19 seasons with fewer than 10 goals. Nine goals were scored in 1996.

Only two goals were scored in the first period against goalies Martin Brodeur of the East and Marty Turco and in the third against Roberto Luongo of the East and Dwayne Roloson as all four made a series of exceptional saves.

"I thought it was high tempo, it was quick out there, but the goaltending was great," the West's Jarome Iginla said. "It could have been a really high-scoring game if they weren't so good."

Not likely. Though the final score would be a shootout by today's standards in a sport where scoring had dropped by 2½ goals per game in the last 15 years to an average of five per game, it was far below that of the 16-goal average of the last 14 All-Star games. Only three years ago, North America beat the World All-Stars by the football like-score of 14-12 in Denver, a game derided by hockey purists as being more like a home run derby than a real game.

On Saturday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league's general manager and a league-wide committee will look at ways to pump up the offense and improve the game.

"I think we can make a lot of changes, but we're never going to have the scoring we once did, and today is proof of it," Messier said. "I think a 6-4 All-Star Game with that many chances, you can take out every red line and blue line in the game and you're never going to have the goal scoring that we had in the '80s."

This game actually had some contact and some checking, a rarity in a mostly hitting-free game in which the last thing any player wants to do is get hurt.

After the East's Jeremy Roenick delivered a hard check on the West's Keith Tkachuk during the first period, Tkachuk responded by slamming Roenick into the boards, drawing one of the few big ovations from the sellout crowd of 19,434.

"Guys love it when he [Roenick] is out there doing that," Sakic said. "He does a super job promoting the game. I thought he was great."

Messier set up the game's first goal, Adrian Aucoin's shot that eluded goalie Marty Turco's glove as he swiped at it in the first period, to set an All-Star Game record with his 14th assist, one more than Ray Bourque had in 19 games.

Messier, who was already a Stanley Cup winner with Edmonton when 19-year-old Columbus All-Star Rick Nash was born, later tied it at 3 with the first of three consecutive East goals in the final 6:12 of the second period against Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun let in four of the 12 shots he faced in his All-Star debut.

"Both him [Jagr] and Robert [Lang] all game long were trying to set me up and score a goal, and I was the lucky receiver," Messier said.

Messier's goal, his sixth in an All-Star game and his first since 1998, gave him 20 career points -- breaking a tie with Gordie Howe for third place in All-Star history.

"Obviously, you always want to score in a game like this," Messier said.

The pro-West crowd gave Messier a standing ovation before the game and later loudly cheered his goal. The East won for the fifth time in the last six All-Star games played with an East vs. West format.

Gary Roberts, who retired for the 1996-97 season because of a neck injury but came back a year later, put the East ahead by slamming Alfredsson's long rebound past Vokoun less than a minute after Messier's goal. Alfredsson, the Ottawa star who played most of the game on a line with rival Mats Sundin of Toronto, made it 5-3 late in the second by swiping in a Sundin shot that lay in the crease between Vokoun's pads.

The only goal against Brodeur -- arguably, the NHL's MVP to date -- was by Sakic, who tied it at 1 with his first of his consecutive goals for the West. Sakic's three goals equaled his total in his first eight All-Star games.

Sakic was the 14th player in All-Star history to score three or more goals; five share the record with four goals, including 2003 MVP Dany Heatley of the East in a 6-5 overtime loss to the West. Sakic became the second straight MVP to play for the losing team.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press