Emotional appeal

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

NEW YORK -- PART THREE: ALL ABOUT MESS

Sun Media columnist Terry Jones spent Super Bowl weekend in New York at hockey legend Mark Messier's leadership camp.

In the third instalment of a four-part series on Messier, Jones asks some of No. 11's former teammates to recall their favourite memories of the Moose.

Messier will have his number raised to the rafters at Rexall Place Feb. 27 alongside former Edmonton Oilers teammates Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey.

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Glenn Anderson was holding court.

"I'd just been traded from Toronto to New York," said Mark Messier's winger from the five-time Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers.

"I arrived in New York and had no idea where I was going to stay or what I was going to do.

"Mess said, 'You're going to stay with me.'

"So one day the phone rings at his place and I answer it.

"A female voice is on the other end. She says, 'Is Mark there?'

"I said 'No, but can I take a message?'

"She said, 'Just tell Mark that Madonna called.'

"How many girls do you know called Madonna? I'm saying the Madonna?"

Many a story was being told at the Mark Messier leadership camp I was invited to attend here on the weekend, which culminated with the Captain's Cup game at Madison Square Garden on Monday.

Not all of them, of course, could be on the record. But they all spoke volumes about Messier and couldn't help but get your correspondent all revved up as Edmonton counts down the days to his No. 11 banner raising in Edmonton at the end of the month.

Anderson told another one I'd never heard before. He told of a brawl he had with Messier. "Mess moved Kevin Lowe's bed out of the hotel room into the hall to make floor space for it to happen.

"It was after the Wayne Gretzky sale to Los Angeles and we were all upset because we felt we'd been lied to by Peter Pocklington," he said of the owner.

"It was like we'd had a death in the family and we were all upset and one of us, me, was playing particularly horse@&%#. The fight started kind of World Wrestling Federation-like but by the end of it my nose was bleeding and I had cuts and scrapes."

Mike Keenan, who was invited to the camp to coach one of the teams, remembered when Messier came to New York from the Oilers.

"At the first day, I showed the parade after the New York Yankees won the World Series.

"I looked over at Messier and he was crying. He was tearing up. I looked at him with tears in his eyes and thought right then, 'We have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.' That was what he wanted. Someone to reinforce his own belief that we could win the Cup in New York."

Keenan told the story of when he was coaching Chicago in the playoffs against the Oilers when Messier had a huge game that turned the series. "On his first shift he broke two sticks. One on Denis Savard and the other on Doug Wilson."

Keenan said he's never experienced a coach-player connection like he had coaching Messier in two Canada Cups and here.

There have been a lot of stories told, behind the scenes, about how Messier, Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish virtually took over the '94 Rangers team in the New Jersey series when Messier made his famous Game 6 'We will win' guarantee.

"Mess made an emotional appeal to me to make sure we were on the same page, to make sure we were still connected," Keenan said.

When the team came in down 2-0 after the first period in that Game 6, Keenan said he could see the players looking at him to see "what the coach has to say."

"I didn't say a word. Mark made the speech. It was a lot better coming from him."

And as for that guarantee ...

"It tells you a lot about him that he could make such a bold prediction and not throw the group off."

Adam Graves, who played with Messier in Edmonton and New York, said No. 11 has always been a study.

"His timing was impeccable. And he always spoke from the heart. There have been a lot of lines about his emotion, about how he should be sponsored by Kleenex. But his emotion and heart took him in a lot of different directions.

"I remember with the Oilers in '90. We got beat something like 10-2 in Calgary. I'm not sure what the score was but they absolutely humiliated us.

"After a loss like that, the players on most teams go off on their own to lick your wounds. But Mess insisted we were all going to go out for dinner together in Calgary. He didn't want us to go back and pout. In the next game we had more energy than we had all season. We went on to win the Oilers' fifth Stanley Cup that year.

"I remember a lot of little things about Mark. Like coming out on the ice. And standing for the national anthem.

"It was important to him how we did that. He wanted us all to be skating out on the ice before a game without any stragglers or breaks between players coming on to the ice. And for the anthem, he wanted five guys standing together.

"I remember in New York in the early '90s when, for the first time, we had guys coming over from communist countries. There was a hygiene issue with players in the showers and stuff.

A DETAILS MAN

"He took it on himself to solve those things in a positive way. He explained it all to them and made sure they had the right clothes. Detail things. He understood that assimilating to North American life was going to be a big part of their assimilating to the hockey here. And on that '94 team, we had the first Russians ever to have their names on the Stanley Cup," he said of Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov and Sergei Zubov.

"There are a lot of stories about the idea that Mark would grab a guy, put him to the wall and beat the @#$! out of you if you didn't play well, but he didn't really have to do that. He had such honesty. He'd come up to you and say 'You've got to get in shape. You need to get on the bike.'

"And he knew how to get your confidence. He'd say something positive about something you did and that's such a boost when it comes from one of the greatest players ever.

"When I first came to Edmonton from Detroit, I showed up without any clothes. When I showed up at the hotel, who was in the lobby? Mark Messier. He took myself, Joe Murphy and Petr Klima out for a pre-game meal, got us clothes and set us up in an apartment. Stuff like that is what made Messier and that team so special.

"Everybody talks about when Mess got that look in his eye. That stare or whatever. A lot of who Mess was actually was his body language. Head up. Proud. And always more than words. Actions."

Jeff Beukeboom was another player who played with Messier in Edmonton and New York.

"Typical Mess was when we won the Stanley Cup here in '94. We were down to about 10 of us in the dressing room having a beer and Mess sat there staring at Nick Kypreos's stick. 'How do you use this?' he asked. The season was over, we'd just won the Stanley Cup and Mess ... I just found that very funny."

Beukeboom, who came to New York from the Oilers in one, er phase, of the Messier deal, said one thing always struck him about No. 11.

"He has a lot of passion. He lived the way he played. The thing that I figured out the longer we played together was how analytical he is and how deep he is.

"I remember one day after practice Mess wondered if I wanted to go out with him. I said no, I had to go home to be with my kids. There were about three times a year I was envious of him and that was one of them. He looked at me and said 'That's a choice you made.' I'd never looked at it like that. And when I did, I realized he was right. I had no problem with that."

Beukeboom said he could see how much Messier took from Gretzky in Edmonton.

"What he did for young guys in New York was what Gretz did with me in Edmonton. Gretz moved me into his apartment.

"They'd do anything for you. That's the reason they were so great. They are both better people than they were hockey players. As great as they were on the ice, they are better people off the ice.

"Mess treated everyone with respect and courtesy. I remember when Darren Langdon came up from the minors. Two years before that he'd been playing seniors hockey. He only owned one suit. Mess went out and bought him a new suit and hung it in his stall. He always went out of his way to take care of you.

TEAM PLAYER

"When we'd go out for lunch after practice, he'd invite the coaches to come. You don't see that much in the game, but that's the way it had been in Edmonton with Glen Sather.

"Mess always had the idea that we were all in this together. He wanted us all to party together, eat together and do everything together."

It was terrific to watch them together again at the camp here. And one can only imagine the stories when so many of those Oiler teammates who won all those Stanley Cups together are together again at the end of the month for Messier's special event in Edmonton.


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