Glen Sather likes to think he has an eye for talent, but the first time he watched a young colt named Mark Messier play hockey he had no idea he was scouting a future Hall of Famer.
No idea the brash, unrefined 18-year-old would grow into one of the greatest leaders, winners and players in hockey history.
But he recognized fire and passion when he saw it and knew right away that if the kid's ability ever caught up with his heart, he would be something special.
"The first time I saw him play in St. Albert he was just a young kid, flying all over the ice," said Sather, who brought the raw rookie to Edmonton as a fourth-line grinder and groomed him into a six-time Stanley Cup champion. "He certainly didn't have superstar written all over him, but he had a desire to play. I remember him, very early on, kicking the (heck) out of a veteran guy. That's what I saw in Mark, a great desire."
Sather said Messier had all the tools - could skate as well as anyone, had a great shot from the wing and sweet moves in close - but what set him apart were his intangibles, which were very tangible if you played for the other team. "Just his emotion and his passion for the game," said Sather. "He brought emotion to a different level in the game."
The bigger the game, the better the Moose.
"He always rose to the occasion," said Sather. "And it was always about the team. He was never one to score three goals in a 7-1 game. Mark always scored important goals when it was 3-1 or 2-1.
"Even the way he did this (retired). It was a conference call, he didn't do it on TV."
Sather says he knew several months ago the NHL's second-leading all-time scorer wouldn't be coming back. "We talked three times over the summer and none of the conversations were about hockey," he said.
While Messier's greatest years were in Edmonton, he didn't become a legend until he hit New York. The Moose and the Big Apple were a perfect fit, and he still thanks Sather for making it possible in a 1991 trade for Bernie Nichols, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk. "Glen asked me where I wanted to go," said Messier. "I told him I'd like to go to New York and win a Stanley Cup there. He said I'll see what I can do."
Armed with all the lessons he learned in Edmonton, Messier delivered the Rangers' first title in 54 years.
"I knew what it took to win a Stanley Cup coming off five Stanley Cups in seven years with Edmonton," he said. "I knew the sacrifices you had to make for the benefit of the team."
And after growing up an Edmonton Oiler, the pressures of playing in New York were nothing.