SUN Hockey Pool

The highlight zone

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:03 PM ET

Oct. 10, 1979

It was the first game the Edmonton Oilers played in the NHL and Mark Messier, 18, like all the other kids on the team, was in total awe of playing the Original Six Chicago Blackhawks in the incredible environment of Chicago Stadium.

"All I could think about was, 'We're in the NHL.' It got to me," he told me after the game. "It really hit me in the afternoon. Until I sat there at about 3 p.m., I hadn't really let it get to me. But I sat in my hotel room and all I could think about was 'Hey, we're in the NHL'. It got to me."

April 11, 1980

The Oilers had just lost 3-2 in double overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers to lose three games to none in consecutive games in their first playoff series. The first game was also an overtime loss.

When it was over the first-place overall Flyers toasted the team and the talents of the 16th seed first-year Edmonton team, which gave them a series. "That Messier," said future Hall of Famer Bill Barber. "Well, he convinced me that he's going to turn out just super."

April 22, 1981

It was Game 5 of the second round series against the New York Islanders on Long Island when, with four minutes remaining in an upset 4-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup champions, the players on the Oilers bench started singing.

"Here we go, Oilers, here we go!"

Again and again and again.

Messier had formed The Edmonton Boys Club choir at the intermission between periods.

Paul Coffey pointed the finger at Messier.

"It just felt right to start singing. We don't know how to be goodie-goodies yet. We're a young team.

"We don't know how to take it all in stride."

April 24, 1981

The Islanders, not the least bit interested in taking the team (which had swept the legendary Montreal Canadiens in the first round) to a seventh game, put the Oilers away.

"Can I have your stick?" Messier asked Bob Nystrom as he shook hands. "I'd like a memento of this series. Something to remember."

March 31, 1982

It was the Oilers second-last game of their third season in the league and Messier had just scored his 50th goal for the first time in his career.

Messier went from one end of the ice to the other, his arms and legs out of control.

"I just lost it," he told me that night. "It was such a feeling of exhilaration. I just lost control of everything in my body and we just took a trip together. If the game had been played on a river, I'd have skated all the way like that to the next province."

Dave Lumley laughed about it in the dressing room.

"Gretz should take goal-scoring celebration lessons from the Moose," he said.

"I don't think anybody realized how determined Mess was to get 50," said Gretzky.

April 6, 1983

The Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 6-3 in the first-ever Battle of Alberta Stanley Cup playoff game and Messier equalled the Oilers record, set by Gretzky in the opening round series against Winnipeg, with four playoff goals in a game.

He was inspired. It was the first time all year that his dad Doug, coaching the Oilers' farm team in Moncton that year, was able to sit with wife Mary Jean in the family seats in Section V, Row 17, seats 11 and 12.

"Mom and dad were my inspiration tonight," he said. "It was weird all year with my dad in Moncton, to look up in those seats and not see them watching me. I wanted to win this for dad. He's the one who got me here. And mom ... Mom always sits in seat No. 11 because that's my uniform number. A gorilla couldn't take that ticket away from her."

May 30, 1984

After leading Edmonton to a Game 3 win against the New York Islanders to take a 2-1 series lead with two goals, Messier was a force in delivering Edmonton the first of five Stanley Cups.

"I've never heard a crowd like this in Edmonton for a constant 60 minutes. They were my inspiration," said Messier.

When the Oilers put it away in Game 5 at home, Messier was crying.

Not only was he about to carry the Stanley Cup, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

"Messier's goal in Game 3 turned us into the team we had to be," said Paul Coffey.

Nov. 12, 1985

The Oilers set the record for the longest undefeated streak from the start of a season - a record set 41 years earlier by the Montreal Canadiens - when they won their 15th in a row.

It was an 8-5 win against the Capitals on the road. Messier was injured back at home.

When the team returned to their hotel rooms there was a chilled bottle of expensive champagne in every room.

Nobody knew where they had come from until Kevin Lowe found his bottle and read an attached note. "Anything that's worth anything is hard to get. You guys did it! Congratulations. From The Moose."

Glen Sather beamed.

"What a guy! What a guy!"

April 28, 1986

The Oilers had won their second Stanley Cup the previous spring but were now in trouble, down three games to two to the Calgary Flames in a second-round series.

The Oilers won in Calgary to force a Game 7 back in Edmonton. Messier led the way.

"Messier scored the biggest goal of his life," said Gretzky.

But it would be forgotten fast. In Game 7 Steve Smith scored on his own net and a chance for what could have been five Stanley Cups in a row went away.

April 4, 1987

Messier completed a 111-point regular season and shrugged it all off when it was over.

"The whole season really dragged on," he said.

"We didn't care much about finishing first and accomplishing a lot of things which used to be important to us. The playoffs are where it's at. Whenever knew it as much as we knew it this year."

May 13, 1987

Messier led the Oilers back to the Stanley Cup final, dominating the Detroit Red Wings in a five-game Western Conference final in which he scored the game-tying goal and the series-winning goal.

"Too much Messier," was how Jacques Demers analyzed the series when it was over.

Messier wasn't interested in any gee-whiz interviews after the game.

"I just want to win. Last year was a big disappointment, and I don't think we should be going overboard about what we've done yet just because we're back in the Stanley Cup final.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet. We haven't done what we've come to do."

Former Flame Kent Nillson was a new Oiler late that year and discovered the Messier impact up close and personal.

"He just looks at you. I tell you, he has a helluva look. One of those looks and you know you better get going. He's a guy who gets everybody going."

June 1, 1987

The night before, in a seventh game, the Oilers had won a third Stanley Cup, this one over the Philadelphia Flyers.

The team had planned a team photo with the Cup for 4 p.m. Only half the players, who had partied all night, showed up. The picture had to be rescheduled for the next day following the parade.

"You think it's easy running a hockey team?" asked Sather, shaking his head at Messier, one of the players who did show up but wearing dark sunglasses. There was a tradition with the Oilers that each player won the right to have the Stanley Cup for one day. Messier told the players that the picture had been called off and that he'd decided to claim Day 1. He took Stanley across the street to the Forum Inn and Stanley went straight on stage with a stripper.

April 8, 1989

Edmonton made it four Stanley Cups in five years and Wayne Gretzky had gathered the team on the ice for the photo with the Cup, a photo-op which would be part of every Stanley Cup won by every team since to this day.

And then after his "I promised Mess I wouldn't do this" tearful press conference after Peter Pocklington sold him to Los Angeles for $18 million, Messier was now the captain.

It was Game 3 of the first-round series against Gretzky and the Kings with the series tied 1-1 when there was the freeze frame of that Oilers playoff year.

Messier ran over Gretzky and left his former teammate a perplexed pretzel on the ice.

"Obviously we're going to have to put friendships aside," said Messier.

"They definitely cut the cord tonight," said Sather.

April 10, 1989

After taking a 3-1 lead with another win the next night, Messier gave me the quote of the season at poolside.

"This is no damn fun," he said. "It just doesn't seem right.

"Obviously I have responsibilities to the guys on my team and the Oilers organization. But I can honestly say it hasn't been real enjoyable.

"I just want to win the series and get it over with. I've played with Wayne Gretzky so long. We've been so close. I'm the godfather to his daughter Paulina. To go out there and slam his head through the boards isn't easy. It's the most difficult thing I've ever had to do."

The Oilers lost the series.

Nov. 20, 1989

Two weeks earlier the Oilers traded Jimmy Carson and Kevin McClelland for Joe Murphy, Adam Graves and Petr Klima.

"We're going to win the Stanley Cup this year," said Captain Messier that day.

It wasn't that he said it. It was when he said it. The Oilers had a worse record in the middle of that year than they had the previous year.

"The standings don't show it," said Messier. "But we're light years ahead of where we were last year. Last year there was no light at the end of the tunnel. This year we can see the light. And it's a bright light.

"We're definitely going to start talking Stanley Cup around here. I think it's important that the veterans start talking about what it was like to win a Stanley Cup around all the new players and making them feel like they can win it. To come back and win another one now ... that would be incredible."

May 8, 1990

Edmonton was down two games to none to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference final and had been beaten 5-1 in Game 3 in old Chicago Stadium. Suddenly the Oilers were a team in trouble again.

Over the years much had been written about the famous Messier stare and glare. Prior to Game 4 was where his new teammates saw it emerge full force for the first time. This was his hockey team now and he came to the rink with that refuse-to-lose look in his eyes.

"He wasn't saying anything," Craig MacTavish told me after the game that night. "He didn't say a word. He had his skates on more than a half an hour before he would normally put them on. You just had to take one look at him and know how up he was. One look at him and you knew he was going to take charge."

The Oilers won 4-2. Messier had two goals and two assists.

"Mark was awesome," said Sather. "Whenever you need it, he's the guy who comes through for you. He's been doing this since the Islanders in '84. But tonight he was a dominant force. That was his best-ever game of the playoffs. Maybe the best game, ever."

Messier had won the series in Game 4 and everybody knew it. The fifth Stanley Cup with Messier dedicating it to Gretzky was to follow.

Sept. 17, 1991

His Team Canada team-mates were in the dressing room after practice for the Canada Cup at Maple Leaf Gardens when Messier sat on the bench and gave me the story.

"I've probably played my last game as an Oiler," he said.

"I always wanted to stay and play out my career in Edmonton. But the way things have gone, I can honestly say I no longer want to stay.

"I think it's best for everybody if I move on now and not leave a bitter taste in everybody's mouth. It's been a great 12 years. It's stopped being about money. If I did sign it wouldn't be fun anymore. It's about winning. I see it all starting to fall apart now. At this stage of my career, the only thing that matters is winning."


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