My life after hockey

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:00 PM ET

NEW YORK -- No. 11 now owns a hotel in the Bahamas. It has 11 rooms.

Each room has the name of one of the grandchildren of his parents Doug and Mary Jean. They have 11 grandchildren.

Life after hockey and the business of being Mark Messier is a many-splendoured thing.

The business of being Mark Messier hasn't stopped now that his career has come to a conclusion, and the greatest leader in the history of hockey heads to Edmonton at the end of the month to watch his number raised to the rafters.

It was back in the '80s when he declared to this columnist his desire and determination to play in four different decades - to make it to the 2000s.

He did. He played 25 years in the league.

Back then you had to figure they'd have to rip the uniform off his back and that life after hockey would be more difficult for him than any of his glory gang Edmonton Oilers teammates, who won five Stanley Cups in seven seasons.

"I thought that, too. But it's not as much as I thought," said former Oilers and Rangers teammate Jeff Beukeboom.

"He's showing that he's a lot deeper and a lot more of a person than everybody thought."

Just when you'd think it would all be coming apart for Messier, he seems to be more together than ever before - and that's amazingly together.

"The thing is, I never tied my identity to the game," said Messier. "I was able to separate who I was as a person and who I was as the hockey player wearing the uniform.

"In what turned out to be my last year, (significant other) Kim and I had our first child and I found myself thinking I could be at home playing with my kid. That whole season my perspective changed.

"Then the lockout came and we had our second child. The lockout made it easier because I didn't have to make a decision. It was a tough thing to do to announce the decision, but ..."

If there hadn't been a lockout ...

"I think the lockout ended up being a blessing for Mark," said his dad, Doug.

"He could have played if there had been a season instead of the lockout. But suddenly he was off the ice, had two little children including a brand-new baby. And he's been busy."

He has a young family now, a hotel, more endorsements now than when he was playing, the Mark Messier leadership camp, which I was invited to experience last weekend, and a complete understanding of who he is and where he wants to go from here. And that includes the idea of being the next general manager of the New York Rangers.

"I think part of it is he has so much fulfilment," says sister and business manager Mary-Kay.

"When he played he was so single-focused. It all involved the game. It made it a real challenge for me to deal with him in the business world. But now he's embraced it. And now he has a partner in life and two young children. His life has changed.

"When you look at him, he's achieved so much as an athlete and a leader. He's now looking at where he came from with a different perspective."

Messier says as he looks towards his guaranteed-to-be emotional-night in Edmonton, he looks back at it all and feels complete with the journey.

"One thing I definitely learned playing with Wayne Gretzky in those early days in Edmonton was his belief that everything came from hockey," said Messier.

"I decided to be 100% committed to hockey. Everything away from hockey I quickly dropped. Anything that I felt would take away from the game, I chose not to do.

"As I got older, more opportunities started to come, but I was real careful in what I chose to do and who to do it with. I got involved with good people and did it mostly in the summer when it didn't distract me away from the game.

"Some people may say I left a lot of money on the table. You could look at it that way. But I kept an eye on the idea that it made me more successful by focusing on playing hockey."

The business of being Mark Messier is now booming.

"The way things are going, I'm so busy I should have kept playing hockey," he laughs.

"Now I'm involved in the business of being in business."

Mary-Kay says her brother approaches what he's doing away from the game with the same focus he used to have for hockey.

"He commits himself 150%. It's like his leadership camp. He throws himself completely into it."

Mary-Kay and husband Aldo Esposito, an Edmontonian, used to live in the Hilton Head area where Mark, brother Paul, sister Jenny and Doug and Mary Jean Messier reside. But the two have recently moved their four kids to Greenwich, Conn.

The business of Mark Messier has long been a family thing.

"Mark had Gus Badali as his agent in the beginning, but after a few years (he) decided he didn't want a big agency," said Doug, the former Edmonton Flyers pro player.

"I was lucky Doug had hockey experience and was sharp enough and smart enough to do my contracts," said Mark.

"And my brother Paul and sister Mary-Kay came with me to New York to start Mark Messier International.

"My family has been my team my whole career. I'm blessed they all were very capable. And the trust was there.

"Mary-Kay now has so much experience, she's now probably overqualified to still be in the position she's been in with me. That's one of the reasons why being involved with Cold-fX is so fulfilling. Mary-Kay is now looking at an opportunity to head up Cold-fX for the whole U.S.A. It's a big opportunity for her."

For the company to come out of Edmonton makes it even better.

"Dr. Jackie Shan came from China on a scholarship to the U of Alberta," says Mary-Kay. "She wanted to revolutionize health care to prevent disease instead of treat it. When she developed Cold-fX she ran into tremendous opposition from the big pharmaceutical companies. So she forged on as a private company.

"Their numbers in Canada are astounding for the population. The product is used as she wanted - as a preventative treatment.

"She really connected with Mark. He represents all of that. What's the right thing to do for the good of the team. He said, 'This is something I can really believe in.' That connection was immediate. There was her story, too. She came from complete poverty. She arrived in Edmonton with no coat and people took her in and looked after her."

Messier said the product was such a perfect fit.

"I'd used it for 10 years. To find out the folks behind it came out of Edmonton ..."

To many people who never watched a hockey game, Messier is the guy in the Frito-Lay potato chip commercials.

"Chip?"

He has a new two-year deal with Frito-Lay that will involve a tie-in to his Edmonton banner-raising, which is sponsored in part by Cold-fX.

One of his other endorsement deals came as a result of XM satellite radio sponsoring his New York Rangers banner-raising.

"In a roundabout way, we got the endorsement because of my retirement," he said.

Then there's the hotel.

"It's 40 miles east of Nassau on an island four miles long and one mile wide. We first went there in 1995 to go fishing and made a stop there every year. The stops got longer and longer ... It's an old estate home on Harbour Island right on the beach. It has 11 rooms. It's not like we added a room or took away a room to make it exactly 11 rooms. It has 11 rooms."

The names of the rooms are bookended by Mark's kids, 19-year-old Lyon and toddlers Douglas and Jacqueline-Jean.

The Hilton Head Messier compound involves three houses and brother Paul's house across the road.

"We bought it the summer I was traded to the Rangers. Mom and dad and Jenny, my older sister, moved there that November. Then Mary-Kay and Aldo moved there.

"I liked the place for the off-season for the good weather, the golf, training and fishing," said Messier, who also owns something like a romantic version of a Swiss Family Robinson tree house on Daufauskie Island off Hilton Head - a place that is only accessible by boat.

Messier has five boats, from a 55-foot fishing Viking to a small shrimper. "Kinda one of every shape and size," he says.

Life is good being Mark Messier.

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TOMORROW: MESSIER THE PLAYER, MESSIER THE PERSON


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