SUN Hockey Pool

An emotional moment

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:44 PM ET

Mark Messier was doing fine until the sign.

On a stage at Winston Churchill Square, in front of hundreds of freezing fans, Messier was clearly enjoying his first public moment of his homecoming.

He had his trademark great grin as he bounced around the stage for presentations, taking off his tuque to out-bald Mayor Stephen Mandel for the photo-ops.

Finally, after the mayor had declared it "Mark Messier Day," and following the presentation of a binder of messages from fans by minor hockey players, the "Mark Messier Trail" road sign was unveiled behind him.

When Messier made reference to it, Edmonton had the first emotional moment from No. 11. It won't be the last.

"I can't express how much it means to me and my family. It will be there for a lifetime ...''

That's where he had to stop, take a breath and call a quick timeout.

Messier, at a press conference a half-hour later, tried to explain why that's what did it. I mean, there was no element of surprise involved. He's known for a while now about the change in the name of St. Albert Trail.

"It was the realization of having something in your name that is going to be there for a long time, maybe forever," he began.

"Something your family and kids can see ...

"Having a memorial like that ...''

He wasn't doing much better indoors.

"Memorial might not be the right word," he said. "I'm 46.

"It just says you did something special in a city and people appreciated it. I mean, this will always be my home. I came from here. It was a time I'll never forget. I can't express how honoured I am to be honoured this way."

It was a cold Edmonton winter day but there was no lack of fans braving the elements for Messier.

He looked out over the fans and said a day like this was absolutely perfect for his outdoor event.

"It's -10 or -20,'' he said, adding that Edmonton weather breeds outstanding people.

"There is something special about people who live in this community, in this environment. We all saw it at the Heritage game. It brings out the spirit in people. It instills character in people," he added at the press conference.

"It's growing up playing on outside rinks with those old stoves in the shacks ..."

Outdoors at the city function, ignoring the cold, he told the fans he'd been to the location before.

"It reminds me a lot of May in 1984, standing up here when we won our first Stanley Cup."

He told the crowd that no city ever had a relationship with a hockey team like the one he played with here.

"We celebrated together with the community,'' he said of taking the Stanley Cup to restaurants and bars during those years and the closeness between the players and the fans, which was beyond belief.

"The city really pushed us to be the best we could be,'' he tried to explain.

Messier said there's something about Edmonton that makes players "want to make people proud, to be very active in the community and represent it well on the ice.

"To me, the whole experience of Edmonton looking back and reflecting on it, is the strong feeling between the players and the community. It involved so much reaching out with the community and charities.

"People feel part of the team more here. You feel it here so powerfully. When you disappoint them and let them down, you have to suffer the consequences of the community. That's a big part of it. It's a huge part of Edmonton team successes."

When it was over, outdoors and indoors, you could see what he had done.

He'd made Mark Messier Day not about Mark Messier or the Oilers' glory gang, but about Edmonton.

Last night's gala at the Winspear was more about him and his Oiler teammates, who won five Stanley Cups in seven years. Tonight's banner raising will be about No. 11. But yesterday the fans came to stand outside in freezing weather conditions to honour Mark Messier and ended up being the honoured guests instead.


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