Call it goodbye, Mess

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

It was so wrong. Mark Messier's great goodbye was a conference call.

There was no emotion. There was no stage.

Nobody played hockey with more emotion than Mark Messier. Few deserved a farewell stage more in all of hockey history.

You could count on the fingers inside of a set of hockey gloves, maybe a single glove, the number of players who were greater in the game than No. 11.

But there was no press conference in the Paramount Theatre lobby in Madison Square Garden, with backlit pictures of the man the fans came to call Moose in the different uniforms he wore during his career, like there was for Wayne Gretzky.

The NHL didn't pass out special retirement press kits featuring a picture of him in his first year in the league as an Edmonton Oiler and another in his last year with the New York Rangers.

There were no 'Thanks for the Memories No. 11' signs passed out to the fans in a sold-out building, no number 11 painted anywhere on the ice, no family or former teammates for special presentations, no parting gifts, no teammates there wearing sunglasses to cover the emotions in their eyes like Messier stood there that day for No. 99.

END OF A GREAT CAREER

It was sad, not because it was the end of a great career but because of the way it came to an end.

I suggested to Messier on the low-key conference call, which could have been for a contract extension for his "Chips?" commercial rather than the end of a monster career, that we were waiting to hear him choke up. Maybe say something like "I promised Gretz I wouldn't do this."

He laughed.

"That's why this isn't on TV," Messier said in reference to Gretzky's "I promised Mess I wouldn't do this" quote as No. 99 broke down in his Aug. 9, 1988, press conference to announce Peter Pocklington had sold him for $18 million to the Los Angeles Kings.

"Nobody wants to see a blathering idiot on the podium again," Messier added.

Actually, I think we did. Very much.

Maybe Jan. 12 when Messier's number is retired in a game against the Edmonton Oilers in Madison Square Garden in New York.

Maybe here next year when they unveil his statue (he rates one right beside Wayne Gretzky's outside Rexall Place) and dedicate the St. Albert Trail as 'Mark Messier Drive' (that has to happen, too) and raise his No. 11 banner to the roof with those of 99 Gretzky, 31 Fuhr, 17 Kurri and 7 Coffey.

And ought not the Hockey Hall of Fame rethink the new 'forced wait' rule about getting in? The St. Albert native is one of the few who deserve to go directly to immortality.

Certainly it would have been a greater goodbye if Messier had taken his last lap around the league as an Oiler.

WASN'T UNANIMOUS

To Edmonton fans, it wasn't unanimous that they wanted Messier to play one last year as an Oiler, to break Gordie Howe's record for most games played in his home town after the lockout. But it was the majority.

Messier said he never really thought about that despite the fact Lowe told him it was there for him.

"I gave it some serious consideration. Kevin and I talked a number of times. We're best friends and former teammates. I respect him a lot. The thought of it was very appealing."

But, no.

While he had only 11 games to go to match Howe's record, that had no special significance for him.

"We talked about that, too. But I said I wouldn't come back and play just for that reason. I never thought about individual records for most of my career. That didn't really appeal to me. Anybody who played the game 50-odd years deserves it anyway.

"Going back to Edmonton was something I was willing to listen to Kevin about. But I don't know if I really considered it myself. I felt and knew in my heart if I was going to play it was going to be in New York. Edmonton would have been an interesting endeavour. But I have so much invested in New York, the right thing to do is finish in New York."

So it ended like this. A conference call.

He sounded secure with it even if he did wait until the start of training camp with at least mild speculation about his future for more than a year.

"I didn't really want to play but in the back of your mind you always want to play, if that makes any sense. I don't think anybody retires without still wanting to play. I'll always want to play.

Messier's career stretched 25 years and included six Stanley Cups - five in a span of seven seasons here and one in 1994 as the Mess-iah of the New York Rangers. He won the Hart Trophy as MVP twice, the Conn Smythe as Stanley Cup MVP in 1984 to lead the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup, and scored 694 goals, 1,193 assists and 1,887 points in 1,756 games.

Of those numbers, 851 of those games were as an Oiler, with 392 of the goals in Edmonton, 642 of the assists and 1,034 of the points.

ACHIEVED A LOT

"It's been a long career and I achieved a lot," he said

"I'm very comfortable. It was the right thing to do for me and my family. I feel good about. I am able to walk away from the game completely healthy. It took a long time to make the decision. I had a year and a half to think about it. I feel good about that."

And he will have his celebration here.

"For me, born and raised in Edmonton, to play pro hockey there was a dream come true. My family was right there, my school buddies, my teachers. It will be a magical time to celebrate that."

Commission the statue. Name the road. The day he didn't have here yesterday has to be had here in a year.


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