On Wednesday, legendary NHL forward Mark Messier travelled to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut to partake in the 2017-18 Sacred Heart Guest Lecture Series. Messier told stories from throughout his career. He spoke about dedication, leadership, and communication. Messier also answered questions from fans in the audience.
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Mark Messier’s Career
Fairfield, Connecticut is located in the southwestern region of the state, about a 45-minute metro ride into Grand Central Terminal. The hockey fans in this area are mostly die-hard New York Rangers fans. The event was held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts on campus. It was packed full of jersey-clad fans, both young and old, waiting to see their idol take the stage. Mark Messier is a god to Rangers fans and is known as “The Messiah” because he was the captain who helped bring the Stanley Cup back to New York City in 1994 after 54 years of waiting. Messier took to the stage accompanied by the ever so famous Rangers goal song. It was magnificent.
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Messier was attending the event to speak to fans not only about his hockey story, but his life after the game. He also had advice for the many fans, coaches, and student-athletes in the audience. Messier spoke about growing up a Montreal Canadiens fan, watching the games on his television with his father, taking note of every move that players such as Guy Lafleur and Guy Lapointe executed while they played. He talked about his time before the NHL, and his eventual drafting to the newly formed Edmonton Oilers franchise, his hometown team.
Time in Edmonton
Messier discussed his five Stanley Cup championships in Edmonton, four of which came with “The Great One”, his best friend Wayne Gretzky. He touched upon his fifth cup win, the one in which he was the captain of the Oilers after the famous Gretzky trade. In addition, he talked about leadership, locker room chemistry, team communication, and more.
He then discussed his talk with Glen Sather about being traded to a new team in 1991. He wanted a team that would challenge him, and cause him to work hard for something he was used to, a Stanley Cup Championship.
Moving to New York
“The Big Apple” gave Messier just that. It was three seasons of grit, disappointment, and early playoff exits that followed before the Rangers magical run to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. This run included a sweep of the New York Islanders, followed by a four game to one rout of the Washington Capitals, and the Game 7 double-overtime victory over the rival New Jersey Devils. However, the most interesting part of his discussion was about his famous Game 6 guarantee- “We will win tonight”.
“I woke up the next morning and Brian [Leetch], handed me the newspaper. I took a look at the cover and read the headline ‘Captain Courageous’ Bold Prediction; We’ll Win Tonight’. I sat back and said ‘oh my God’, and Brian turned to me and said ‘looks like we have to win tonight huh?'”.
Messier went on to record a third-period hat trick which sparked the Rangers to a Game 6 victory. The series went to a Game 7, and the Rangers won by the ever-so-famous “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” goal in double-overtime. The Rangers went on to face the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final. It was a series that went the distance and resulted in a 3-2 Game 7 victory on home ice. Historic.
Mark Messier’s Life After Hockey
Messier talked about his life after hockey, the highlight of which is his ice arena project in New York City. Messier said that with all the NHL teams in the New York area, he was surprised at how hard it was for youth hockey players to find a rink. He explained that once a child hits a certain age, he or she had to travel either upstate or out of state to find a new place to play at on a team. He has plans to change that.
Messier plans to take the old, unused Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx and turn it into the world’s largest ice complex. Messier and his supporters hope to turn the multi-floor armory into an ice palace. It is set to hold nine different sheets of ice for hockey, curling, figure skating, recreational skating, etc. He wants to give back to the city that gave him so much and spread the game he loves.
“We plan to follow the same design that Ed Snider did in Philadelphia. He provided children with free ice, equipment, and coaches. The only requirement was to show the staff that they are enrolled in school. Grades do not matter, just that they are going to their classes. We would like to do the same here in New York”
The project was approved in the summer of 2017. It received a $108 million loan from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to begin necessary construction. Messier’s own development group raised $20 million privately. In addition, they received a $30 million loan from the state of New York.
Listening to Messier speak of not only his career, but this project was inspiring. The game of hockey is an amazing one. It is excellent to see a legend of the game take on this great responsibility of spreading it and allowing the youth of America to earn their dreams.
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