SUN Hockey Pool

Moose called up!

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

The way things have gone since Ryan Smyth was shipped to the Islanders at the trade deadline, a lineup change should have been expected.

Resorting to dressing 46-year-old Mark Messier, though, was a bit of a shock.

But there he was, the Moose, in full gear yesterday taking the morning skate.

Messier wasn't about to come out of retirement to embark on yet another chapter of the Battle of Alberta.

The former Oiler, however, was the centre of attention as he worked out with those who chose to participate in the optional practice before a Hockey Night in Canada tilt with the Calgary Flames.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Even Flames head coach Jim Playfair was peeking at his old teammate - the former defenceman suited up for two games with the Oilers during the 1983-84 season.

"I got a little nervous there, actually," said Messier, who was swarmed in the dressing room after he stepped off the ice and grabbed a drink.

"I saw the Flames were coming to town and I saw the equipment over there. I said, 'Holy mackerel, this is the real deal.' "

Butterflies aren't the only side effect of Messier's Battle of Alberta experiences. He claims the competitiveness between the provincial rivals helped bring out the best in him.

"In a way, it really pushed us to limits we didn't know we could get to. Your honour was on the line every time you played the games. There was no place to hide. Your manhood was called out just about every time," he recalled.

"In a way, I think it made us more aware of what we had inside of us and obviously much better hockey players because of it."

Messier's trip to Alberta ends today but he's thankful he had the opportunity to spend some quality time with his former mates and was excited to take to the ice again, stick in hand.

"It's awesome that the Oilers let me come out here," said Messier, who's been staying with Oilers GM Kevin Lowe. "When I first got to town I didn't have much time to visit. We had a lot of things going on."

Messier looked capable of playing a game or two despite the fact he hasn't suited up since retiring at the end of the 2003-04 season as a member of the New York Rangers. He still has a good touch with the puck and decent legs but promises there's no comeback in store.

"You're not going to see me out there again," Messier said with a laugh, adding he was just trying to get prepared for an alumni game with his son, Lyon, on March 17. "He's been warning me to keep my head up so I'm going to get as much ice as I can before I get down there. At least not embarrass myself."

SIMILAR SITUATION

Messier may not be able to help the struggling Oilers on the ice, but he can certainly shed some light on their difficulty dealing with the loss of Smyth. He went through a similar situation when Wayne Gretzky was unexpectedly dealt to Los Angeles during the off-season back in 1988.

"It was tough for us for a long time when Wayne got traded. It was tough when Paul (Coffey) got traded. It was tough when Semenk (Dave Semenko) got traded," Messier recalled.

"You develop relationships with these guys that extend deeper than just coming to the dressing room. A lot of players socialize together off the ice. Their wives and families are tight.

"Ultimately what you learn, though, is that you've got an obligation to the city and the organization to put your best foot forward every time you put that uniform on.

"As tough as it is, a lot of people are counting on you to be your best each and every night.

"That's a tough lesson and it's a tough reality of professional sports that these things happen but they've got enough leadership in the coaching staff, with Kevin, to get the message across."

Head coach Craig MacTavish figured Messier's presence couldn't hurt.

"It's always good to have a player of his stature rub shoulders with some of your young guys," said MacTavish.

"It could be a bit of a welcome distraction right now."


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