Mess still the man

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Mark Messier may have to deliver his thank you speech twice -- once in English, once in Czech.

The New York Rangers, the NHL's version of the United Nations on blades, will honour their former captain by hoisting Messier's famous No. 11 to the rafters at Madison Square Garden prior to Thursday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers, his first NHL team.

Messier became a Manhattan hockey legend in 1994 when he led the Broadway Blueshirts to their first Stanley Cup title since 1940.

Now, almost 12 years since displaying the silver mug in a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Champions, Messier must feel as if he is in the dressing room of the Czech Olympic team when he visits with the modern day Rangers.

Providing Jaromir Jagr with yet another fellow countryman to play with, the Rangers yesterday acquired Czech Republic native Petr Sykora and a fourth-round draft pick in 2007 from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who received defenceman Maxim Kondratiev, a former Maple Leafs prospect, in return.

Sykora, who is scheduled to earn $3.1 million US this season, becomes the fifth Czech-born player in the Rangers' forward ranks, joining Jagr, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky and Petr Prucha.

Adding a Scandinavian flavour to the mix is Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who earned his second career shutout Saturday against the Florida Panthers. At the conclusion of the 4-0 victory, Lundqvist and his teammates gathered at centre ice and saluted the cheering Garden crowd, a gesture used by many teams in Europe.

While that ovation was well-deserved, it pales in comparison to the thunderous reception that awaits Messier when he steps on to the ice.

In New York, he'll always be considered the man who ended the Rangers' four-decade championship drought.

"I hear about it every day," Messier said. "Every day."

'ROCKY' CROSBY?

Sidney Crosby drew praise from even Don Cherry this week for standing up for himself after absorbing a perceived cheap shot from the Atlanta Thrashers' Ilya Kovalchuk on Friday night.

But can we expect Sid the Kid to start chucking knuckles in the future?

"Trust me, there have probably been a number of times I would have loved that, but in the best interests of the team and the best interests of me I don't think it's the right thing to do," Crosby told Pittsburgh reporters over the weekend.

"If I hurt a hand or a shoulder, to be off the ice is not worth doing that. You can still play tough and not fight.

"As for dropping the gloves it's not something I plan on doing ... but you never know."

BEANTOWN HOMECOMING

Here is a spicy way to kick off the season's second half.

All eyes will be riveted on Boston tomorrow night when Joe Thornton returns to face his former team for the first time since being shipped to the San Jose Sharks in the season's biggest trade to date.

Thornton's arrival is expected to ignite a media circus in Beantown, where one columnist repeatedly called for the captain's 'C' to be ripped off his jersey during the 2004 playoffs.

"It's going to be nice to get there ... but after a couple of days it'll be nice to leave," Thornton told San Jose reporters.

Both the Bruins and Sharks sport winning records since the Nov. 30 deal that sent Thornton west in exchange for forwards Wayne Primeau, Marco Sturm and defenceman Brad Stuart.

In his 15 games with the Sharks, Thornton has 26 points en route to helping his new team to a 10-5 record.

The Bruins, meanwhile, are 8-7 since the trade.

STARS STRUCK

Credit Dallas Stars general manager Doug Armstrong with pulling off one of the shrewdest signings of the season.

Realizing the foundation of any team is its goaltending, Armstrong acted quickly last week in inking Canadian Olympian Marty Turco to a four-year extension worth $22.5 million US.

Turco was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and was said to be the No. 1 target of many goalie-starved teams, a fact that was not lost on Armstrong.

"He had the opportunity to let the contract expire and be available to 30 teams," Armstrong said.

"For me it was time to put a flag in the ground, stake our reputation, and build this team around one person. And that's Turco."

Because the NHL's salary cap is expected to rise next year, the Stars will attempt to re-sign Jason Arnott and Philippe Boucher -- both pending free agents -- in the off-season.

ROOMS NEEDED

Anyone have a room for Bryan McCabe in Turin?

Reports over the weekend said the International Ice Hockey Federation will allow players on taxi squads -- such as Canada's McCabe, Jason Spezza and Eric Staal -- to practise with their respective Olympic teams in Italy during the tournament.

They cannot, however, stay in the Olympic village with their teammates and must find hotels.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Thornton's game against the Bruins tomorrow will draw plenty of attention ... The retiring of Messier's number in New York on Thursday should be the talk of the tabloids ... Wayne Gretzky comes to Toronto for the first time as an NHL coach when his Phoenix Coyotes meet the Leafs on Monday at the Air Canada Centre.


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