You have a whole year to practise your moose calls. The Edmonton Oilers will not rush to run up Mark (Moose) Messier's banner. But when they do ...
"It'll be a huge night," says Kevin Lowe. "They're all pretty special. But this one will be very, very special. Mark was a blue-collar guy from Edmonton."
It'll be next season, says Lowe of the night they'll raise Messier's banner to the roof and possibly raise the roof at the same time.
Paul Coffey's No. 7 goes up Oct. 18 when Wayne Gretzky brings the Phoenix Coyotes to town. Much of the planning has already been done for that one.
Lowe says they'll put in a year's worth of planning to make it special for Messier, who will be honoured in New York when the Rangers play host to the Oilers on Jan. 12. "We're going to let it age and do it right. We're not going to crack open the screw top. We'll take our time."
Lowe said he couldn't believe Messier's official retirement was a conference call. "I phoned Glen Sather and asked him what was going on. He said that's the way Messier wanted it. Actually, he said he had to convince him to do the conference call. Mark just wanted to put out a release. It's just so typical of Mess. He never did want to make anything a spectacle or an occasion. It was indicative of his whole career."
IN THE TOP 10
Nobody in the entire league knew Messier any better than his old roommate Lowe. And his old team-mate for five Stanley Cups here, plus the one they won together in 1994 in New York, says Messier deserves to be celebrated as one of the greatest in the game, especially in Edmonton. "He's certainly in the top 10, if not the top five, all-time," said Lowe.
Where do you start? "His willingness to do what it took to win," he said. "For Mark it was always about winning. And he has to be looked at as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, leader of all time.
"Mark was everything you wanted to be in a hockey player. I think Mark was the player Glen Sather wanted to be. I think Glen had most of his attributes except skill."
He said Messier took the time and trouble to understand and know his teammates inside out.
"He was not unlike Wayne Gretzky in terms of his hockey mind. And he had an incredible feeling for his teammates. No stones were left unturned. He got to know everything there was to know on everybody. He had a book on everyone."
Lowe said Messier not only led on the ice. He led them to some great times together. "You've got to have some fun, some smiles and some laughter."
And if somebody had to take a game into his own hands - to do a dirty deed? "That Russian in the '84 Canada Cup, that was pretty bad," said Lowe. "He played hard. He really idolized the way Gordie Howe played that way and his dad Doug could be a really nasty guy out there."
Many credit Messier, Lowe and Craig MacTavish for taking the reins from Mike Keenan to win the '94 Cup. Lowe isn't going to crack on what happened internally that year other than to tell one story. "When we lost Game 6 in Vancouver, Mike wanted to take us to Lake Placid. He said something about not being able to handle the pressure. Mess looked at him and said 'We'll handle the pressure.' We slept in our own beds."
MARK HELD OUT
Lowe laughs, looking back. "Mark held out at his first pro training camp. All the veterans thought that was pretty ballsy for an 18-year-old.
"I remember him in his Jofa helmet and his big ass," he said of the young Messier.
Lowe said he was guilty of trying to convince Messier to play one last year for the Oilers to get Howe's games-played record.
"He told me flat-out that didn't matter to him one bit. That lack of ego is how he won five Stanley Cups in seven years here and another in New York.
"I remember talking to Mess early in his career about playing as long as Gordie played. I remember going over to the Messier house in St. Albert and listening to his dad, Doug, a minor-league pro, telling us what Gordie Howe meant to him.
"I've had as close a relationship with Mess as anybody. I really got to know his passion for the game and what the Stanley Cup means to him. You look back now and you just think 'unbelievable.' Everything about him has been unbelievable. I thought he had at least another year in him," said Lowe.
Lowe, who shared an apartment with Gretzky in the first year of the NHL, later shared an apartment with Messier. He saw the transformation up close and personal. "For the first few years Mark was just happy to be playing in the NHL," he said.
He guessed his favourite Stanley Cups were his first one in Edmonton in '84 and his last one in New York in '94. He said he believes Messier's favorite trophy other than that was his Conn Smythe in Edmonton's first Stanley Cup win.