(The Nation Network plans to set out a long series of historical posts, detailing the best known players and teams from each club’s era. Lowetide’s profile of Mark Messier is the first step down that long road.)
Mark Messier embodied the heart, soul, skill and physical presence that made up the Boys on the Bus. He was loud and proud, youthful and exuberant, creative and skilled, filthy. Oh. And he played on winning teams. A lot.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
stats courtesy hockeydraftcentral
Mark Messier was the son of Doug Messier, the former Edmonton Flyer and later a school teacher and hockey coach in St. Albert. Mark had played tier 2 junior with the Mets of Spruce Grove, just west of the city. His one glimpse of major junior hockey came during a 7-game playoff with the Portland Winter Hawks (WHL) in the spring of 1978. Messier had grown up in Portland while his father played for the Buckaroos after the Edmonton Flyers folded. From there, the 17-year old graduated directly to the pro ranks when he was signed to a 10-game tryout by the Indianapolis Racers after they lost Wayne Gretzky to Edmonton. (source: The Glory Barons, Douglas Hunter).
Glen Sather was impressed by Mark Messier as he played AGAINST the Oilers in the 78-79 season (WHA). Dennis Sobchuk was a pretty good player and legend has it he thought he could take the kid in the Cincinnati Stinger uniform. Messier apparently had a slight edge in punches. 12-0. Sather noticed and picked him 48th overall in the deepest draft in history, 1979.
Messier began the 1979-80 season with the Oilers, and showed flashes of the player he would become; however, Messier was also young, inconsistent and impatient and his early Oiler career included several battles with authority. At the end of October ’79, Glen Sather sent the emerging powerforward to the minors for disciplinary reasons. He had missed the team flight to St. Louis earlier in the week, marking the third time that season "Mess" was outside the guidelines. "If Mark has to go to Houston to learn how to tell time, well that’s where he’s going" said Sather at the time. His rookie season (and early career) saw him play some center but mostly LW, and in his first season Messier played portside on Stan Weir’s line.
By the summer of 1982, Messier was acknowledged as being an outstanding NHL player. In June 1982, Messier was named to the season ending 1st all star team. "I’m very surprised with the selection" Messier said at the time "It’s the first time I’ve been comfortable for 80 games and my production showed it."
- His first NHL game was also first in history of Edmonton Oilers NHL franchise and first in Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career.
- Member of Oilers "Boys On the Bus" team, a storied group that wreaked havoc on the NHL for a decade. His pivotal goal in G3 of 1984 SCF ranks with the most important goals in the team’s history.
- Became a full-time center for Edmonton’s Feb. 15, 1984, game vs. Winnipeg after having played left wing for the first four years of his NHL career.
- Won Conn Smythe, 1984.
- Suspended 10 games by NHL for cracking Jamie Macoun’s cheekbone in a fight during Edmonton’s Dec. 26, 1984, game at Calgary. Messier was retaliating for having been boarded by Macoun earlier in the game, but the NHL ruled that he had instigated the fight. During this period, Messier tortured the Flames and drove Calgary coach Bob Johnson to distraction. Messier in an Oiler uniform was as close to Gordie Howe as the expansion generation can get, and oldtimers suggest (strongly) Messier was a much dirtier hockey player than Gordie.
- Expressed anger at Edmonton’s trading of Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles on Aug. 9, 1988. He threatened to protest the trade by playing in Europe during 1988-89 season, but finally reported to training camp on Sept. 8, 1988.
- Won the Hart Trophy, 1990 and led the Oilers to their 5th Stanley cup.
THE GREATEST GAME, IN CHICAGO
In the spring of 1987, Detroit goaltender attempted to describe Messier as a shooter.
- "Messier overpowered me on the first one. He’s amazing. His feet are still moving and he still shoots the puck the way he does. He’s got the hardest wrist shot in the NHL. He’s got a little curve on the end of his stick where he scoops the puck. You can’t pick it up right away. When he’s on his game, he’s awesome."
- Edmonton traded Messier and future considerations to N.Y. Rangers in exchange for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk on October 4, 1991. The future considerations were fulfilled when Edmonton sent Jeff Beukeboom to N.Y. Rangers in exchange for David Shaw on November 12, 1991. The Oilers never recovered from the double whammy of the Gretzky sale and the Messier trade.
- An exceptional leader and a champion, Mark Messier combined natural talent and drive into an extraordinary career that saw him play 25 seasons in the National Hockey League as well as one in the World Hockey Association. Widely recognized as one of the greatest players ever to play the game, at the time of his retirement, Messier was second on the NHL’s list in career games played, second in regular season points and second in playoff points. Mark is the only professional athlete to have captained two different teams to championships, having led the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup in 1990 and the New York Rangers to the Cup in 1994. (courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame).
In the classic book "The Game of Our Lives" Peter Gzowski attempted to sum up Messier’s role on the young Oilers who would have such an enormous impact on this city and the game of hockey.
- Gzowski: Number 11 is Mark Messier. Of all the factors that have turned the Oilers around in the last few weeks–from the trades to the midnight raids in Hartford–none have been more important than Mark’s decision to apply himself. The wreckless abandon of the early months has now turned into a controlled fury on the ice, and in many games he has been the Oilers most exciting player. He kills penalties and adds zest to the powerplay. No one knows for sure what has turned Messier around, although it appears more than coincidence that he began his new dedicated approach about the time his cousin Don Murdoch was banished to the minors. So many of the other youngsters take their moves from him that there are those who believe he will one day be captain of the Oilers.