Oilers and their hero

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Today's Edmonton Oilers were all kids when Mark Messier was lifting Stanley Cups, terrorizing opponents, guaranteeing wins and staring holes through anyone, on the other team, or his own, who stood in the way of victory.

But they saw enough to know why No. 11 is one of the most revered names in all of sports.

And some, when they followed in his footsteps, knew enough to stay out of his way.

"I remember him on the ice for the first Stanley Cup, waving his arms and throwing his stick and gloves in the air," said Alberta-born Ryan Smyth, who was eight when Edmonton first won it all in 1984. "I remember the comment he made in New York, 'We will win,' and then going out and scoring a hat trick. Winning is such a huge part of his life."

He remembers playing against Messier and straying on The Moose's bad side.

"Here in New York one time, there was a little scrum, and he was pretty upset. He gave me a whack and I could see the intensity he had. It was a little scary. I didn't want to mess with him."

SKILLED AND TOUGH

Shawn Horcoff, who grew up in Trail, B.C., remembers being glued to his TV, watching this unstoppable force.

"Just the style of game that he played. He was skilled, he was tough, he's one of the most well-rounded players, if not the best all-around player, to ever play the game. He had a mean streak. He was tough to play against."

Horcoff discovered that first-hand, as a rookie, when he decided he wasn't going to take any guff from the old man in the faceoff circle. The welt on his ear is gone, but the memory will last forever.

"It was one of the first draws I took against him. I was a little bit low, probably a little bit too aggressive, and he came through with his stick and clipped me up on the ear. I don't know if it was purposely or not."

We do.

Head coach Craig MacTavish saw enough of Messier's strength, passion and hunger up close in Edmonton that you'd think he'd have been used to it when they played together with the Rangers. He wasn't.

"The thing that was most telling for me was the amount of pressure he put on himself to bring a Stanley Cup to New York," he said.

"I don't think I've ever seen a player pour as much of his heart and soul into a championship as he did here in 1994. I was really shocked at the amount of pressure he was putting on himself."

But he delivered, and that's why he'll be larger than life here forever.

"He's not just known in the hockey world," said Horcoff. "There's a lot of people who play hockey who are famous inside that little fraternity. He became a household name. He's done a lot for the game and a lot for the city of New York. To do what he did, on what is probably the biggest stage in the world, that's why he's Mark Messier."

And that's why the young Oilers are just as excited to be a part of this as New York is.

WANTED TO EMULATE HIM

"He was definitely a guy who when I watched him play I definitely wanted to emulate one day," said Ethan Moreau. "Like a lot of kids, I liked everybody on that team. I could probably still list the roster when they won their first Cup."

So to be wearing Messier's old colours on the day they're retiring No. 11 at Madison Square Garden, how cool is that?

"We've had some pretty special nights because we're Oilers," said Moreau. "One of the perks of playing here is being able to wear the jersey, the same jersey that all those great players wore. It's great to be part of that history in a small way."


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