SUN Hockey Pool

Short, sweet Mess

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Longer isn't necessarily better.

That's especially true when you're talking about jersey retirement ceremonies, and the Edmonton Oilers know that better than anybody.

They've got lifting linen to the rafters, and doing a classy job of it, down to a science.

That's why fans, mercifully, can expect nothing longer than a 35-minute pre-game ceremony when the Oilers retire Mark Messier's No. 11 jersey at Rexall Place Feb. 27.

Having already raised the numbers of Al Hamilton, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey, the Oilers have a history of keeping it short and sweet - even Gretzky's ceremony came in under an hour - and that's the way the red carpet will be rolled out for Messier.

GALA NIGHT

Thirty-five minutes. Tops.

"We think we have a terrific way of doing it," said Allan Watt, the Oilers' vice-president of broadcasting.

"Anything over that (35 minutes), I think you affect the game. You affect the mood in the arena, the coaches. We don't want to do that and I don't think Mark does, either."

Fans looking for a bigger piece of Messier can get it at a charity gala the night before - like the highly successful Boys on the Bus bash that was held before the Great One's No. 99 went up - but the ceremony before the Oilers face Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes will be limited to 35 minutes.

Slick production and a tight timeline made it work like a charm for Kurri, Coffey and Fuhr, while Gretzky was afforded 10 or so extra minutes.

"We've had a pretty successful template as far as length goes with the Kurri, Coffey and Fuhr ceremonies," says Oilers director of broadcasting Don Metz, who'll have the game-night ceremony down to the minute once he gets final approval from the NHL.

What you won't see is anything approaching the 75-minute ceremony the New York Rangers had for The Moose at Madison Square Garden in January of 2006 or the night the Detroit Red Wings just put on for Steve Yzerman at Joe Louis Arena, a spectacle that approached 90 minutes.

"You're not going to have, like they did in New York, a lot of speeches from former players and everything at that venue," Metz said. "That's what the gala the night before is going to be for.

"I think we can achieve, in a time frame that works for the fans, the players on both sides, for the league and for Mark, a ceremony that will have everybody thoroughly entertained. We have a formula that works."

HONOURING THE MOOSE

Rest assured, there'll be lots of nice touches on the night to honour the Moose, just like in ceremonies past.

Having Kurri take a pass from Gretzky and score into an empty net on the night No. 17 went up worked. So did having Coffey wind up in his own zone and wheel up ice with the puck in his No. 7 one last time.

Will anybody ever forget Fuhr taking his place in the goal crease draped in his No. 31 with the house lights dimmed and then peeling off his mask with tears running down his face? Unforgettable.

All five players with their numbers retired will be in the house when No. 11 goes up. Gretzky and Fuhr are here with Phoenix. Kurri is making the trip from Europe. Coffey will attend. Hamilton will be there. So will several other Oilers from the teams that won five Stanley Cups.

"They'll be there," said Watt.

"We won't need a lot of videotaped speeches from old teammates because a lot of them will be in the building.

"A lot of guys have been invited."

It'll be classy, short and sweet.


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