NEW YORK -- Seven years ago, Mark Messier pulled off his
Rangers sweater in a visiting locker room and ended his first tour of duty in New York without saying goodbye to a city that revered him.
Given a second chance, he didn't let that happen again.
Messier left the ice at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday
night, showered with applause and cheers from teammates, family,
friends, fans and even the Buffalo Sabres. The 4-3 loss was
certainly the last game the Rangers captain will play this season,
and possibly the final one of his 25-year NHL career.
"Many times I took a few gulps, but I think everybody is sick
of me crying on national TV, so I was trying to hold it together
the best I could," said Messier, who won't play Saturday in the
season finale at Washington.
Back in 1997, Messier and the Rangers were eliminated from the
playoffs in Philadelphia. It was the last time New York reached the
postseason and the last game he and Wayne Gretzky would play together.
The two former Edmonton Oilers stars have always been linked
whether on the ice or in the record book.
But the second time around turned out to be just a one-year
partnership as Messier left the Rangers for Vancouver as a free
agent following that surprising run with Gretzky to the Eastern
It seemed impossible then that Messier could play anywhere else.
Sure he'd won five Stanley Cup championships in Edmonton -- four
with Gretzky -- before he was traded to New York in 1991 and
instantly became the captain.
But the one title he captured with the Rangers three years later
was, in the opinion of New Yorkers, so much more important than the
handful of rings he earned with the Oilers.
He promised that the Rangers would win their first championship
in 54 years, and then practically willed, rallying them against New
Jersey in the heart-stopping conference finals.
The Rangers then beat Vancouver in the Stanley Cup finals and
from that moment on, Messier was not only a New York Ranger, he was
THE New York Ranger.
"I will go to my grave with feelings and emotions from 1994,"
he said. "Being born in Edmonton and winning a Stanley Cup in
Edmonton and knowing what it means to the people and the
relationships that athletes have to have with the people in the
city and how important that is.
"To experience that again here in New York, that's what to me
is some of the most important things in becoming a champion."
When Glen Sather, the architect of the Oilers' dynasty, took
over as Rangers GM in 2000 he brought Messier back after a
Messier's second tour with the Rangers never came close to
producing the success he had a decade earlier. In four seasons back
on Broadway, Messier reached milestones but never made the
If this is the end, and the 43-year-old Messier was noncommittal
Wednesday night, then he will retire as the NHL's second-leading
scorer with 1,887 points -- trailing only Gretzky. The Great One
still wasn't far away Wednesday, giving Messier a call as he left
the ice following warmups.
"To try and fit in 25 years and all of the great moments into
one night or one afternoon is a little tough," said Messier, the
only player to captain two franchises to the Stanley Cup.
Messier scored his 694th goal in his 1,756th game -- 698 with the
Rangers -- played in front of his family, former teammate Mike
Richter, and relatives of close friend Brian Leetch. Messier's
teenage son, Lyon, was on the bench for the third period but Leetch
was absent. That is partly why this might be it for Messier, even
though he had 18 goals this season.
Because the Rangers couldn't make the playoffs with the league's
highest payroll, a trading deadline sell-off stripped the team of
most veterans -- including Leetch who was dealt to Toronto after 17
Without a realistic chance to win a championship in New York,
and not playing with Leetch, Messier is leaning toward retirement.
Being six goals away from becoming the seventh player with 700 and
12 games short of Gordie Howe's record is probably not enough
motivation to bring him back.
"I'll be here in New York no matter what," Messier said.
"I've been a perfect fit since I've come here."