Messier's ceremony will be bigger

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:55 PM ET

Mark Messier is the benefactor of a bigger, better banner-raising than Wayne Gretzky.

It's not, as Gretzky himself has often put it, because Messier was Edmonton's son and he was Edmonton's adopted son.

It's more because Messier refused to retire long after his glory gang teammates had hung 'em up.

When the Oilers raised No. 99 to the rafters, they'd never done this before. And with Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey, not to mention the Heritage Classic, the Oilers keep learning how to take this sort of thing to a new level.

There's another reason, too. Messier.

No. 11 has already left his legacy on hockey and on Edmonton, but he will leave another legacy behind with this because he, too, has done this before, in New York last year.

He understood the potential to do more than be honoured. And by the time his number is raised to the rafters, more than $500,000 will be raised for charities through all the events planned.

"One thing we maybe underestimated at the beginning of planning this was the amount of energy and horsepower of Mark himself and his understanding of the charity component from his endeavours in New York," said Oilers' VP Allan Watt.

"That's what was most important to him. He very much wanted charity to be a major part of what happened here."

It goes from over $100,000 raised for the Christmas Bureau by the Copper Jackets for people to sit in the penalty box to watch the ceremonies, to the Oilers' Messier online auction - which is expected to bring in $150,000 to the ticket turn-back program - and the $350-a-seat event tonight at the Winspear.

"It was never the intention to make this bigger and better than Wayne's," said producer Don Metz.

"To me, these guys are the Beatles. One is Paul McCartney, another John Lennon "We just started out trying to create a fantastic celebration for everybody to remember for the now and it's just kind of worked out that way. This is our fifth crack at it. It should be bigger and better. Wait till we get to Kevin Lowe."

Gretzky had a civic reception in a snowstorm in front of city hall.

Messier's will be held at Churchill Square at noon and will feature a great deal more staging, not to mention an eight-foot ice sculpture of Messier, which was to be carved last night.

"The city has just been unbelievable on this one," said Watt. "They've never been involved to this degree before."

The Winspear affair will go where none of these affairs have gone before.

"At the Heritage Classic we had Telus Legends Live at Rexall with 10,000 people. That had its own level of success. It worked because we had two complete hockey teams of greats. This is the celebration of one guy with a strong supporting musical and variety show, good sets and an intimacy because of the theatre.

"It's like a larger 'Waiter, There's A Puck In My Soup' event with Wayne. People couldn't believe what Wayne shared with us. That's the type of environment we want for Mark."

Add Powder Blues, Colin James, Tom Cochrane, host Ron MacLean, Glen Sather and a host of Oiler glory gang stars.

Following will be an exclusive function involving 100-150 people paying $1,111 each in an up-close and personal event. And then the ceremony itself before the game tomorrow between the Oilers and Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes.

Messier will be on the ice wearing his old Oiler uniform as has been the case with Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey for their ceremonies.

"What we did for Wayne's banner-raising begat everything since. The only thing we had missing with Gretzky was we didn't have him on the ice for the fans to see wearing the Oilers' uniform one last time," said Watt.

Will he emerge carrying the Stanley Cup like he did after captaining the 1990 team? Will there be a memory-maker like Paul Coffey taking that pass from Charlie Huddy?

One thing for sure. There will be a mess of Messiers.

"And as we planned it there were so many members of Mark's family already starting to cry. There will be 20 family members of his on the ice and they all deserve to be there. Another 80 will be in the building and they all deserve to be there," said Watt.

This one won't be 77 minutes like the one last year in New York. The template for an Oiler banner-raising is 22 minutes. But this could go a half hour, according to Watt.

With Messier, some Kleenex time needs to be built in.


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