Happy 50th Mess!!!
Today is Mark Messier's 50th birthday. Days like this make me feel old. Mess was my absolute favorite player growing up and the one guy I would have emulated my game after had I had any. He is the reason I am a Rangers fan today. And today my idol is a half-century old.
I read an interesting question on TSN today. They wanted to know who the fans thought was the greatest Captain of all time. Messier was a candidate of course. As was Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Wayne Gretzky among others.
Of course my vote was for Mess. Here's the thing; while he played on tremendously talented teams, I contend he was the straw that stirred the drink. The Great One was Mess' teammate for 4 Stanley Cups but didn't win another after being traded away from Edmonton. Messier led the Oilers to a Cup win 2 seasons later.
Then Mess was moved to NYC where the Rangers were in the midst of a long, long Cup drought. He was immediately installed as Captain and led a highly talented team into the 1993 - 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs a favorite to win it all. Mess delivered when the Rangers needed him most.
After falling behind New Jersey 3 games to 2 in the Conference Finals and facing a date with the Devils in Jersey, Mess guaranteed a victory and a return of the series to MSG. Living up to the legacy another NYC icon left the city, Messier delivered a natural hat trick in the 3rd period and led the club to a game 7 for all the marbles in MSG. Of course it would take a Stephane Matteau double-OT wrap-around winner to propel the Rangers to the Finals.
Eventually the Blue Shirts would take the Vancouver Canucks down in 7 games and delivered the Cup to Manhattan for the 1st time in 54 years. Brain Leetch won the Conn Smythe and brilliant goaltending from Mike Richter played large parts but Mess was the Captain. He became the 1st player to ever Captain Stanley Cup champions for 2 different franchises.
There's a lot more to it. Many of his critics call him a dirty player and without a doubt Messier was not afraid to get rough. To call him dirty I find rather harsh. He played tough and didn't back down from anyone. He dropped the gloves with many noted heavyweights including former teammate Marty McSorley.
No, he didn't win much after leaving the Rangers the first time and was unable to Captain the Blue Shirts to a playoff spot upon his return. I find the severe mismanagement of the roster had more to do with that failure than anything Mess did or didn't do.
I say Mess is the man but have to also respect Beliveau who captained 5 Stanley Cup Champions in Montreal and is the longest-serving Captain in that franchise's history. Stevie Y was also a tremendous player and leader for many, many years and won 3 Cups.
Feel free to chime in the comments section with your vote for greatest Captain of all-time. Just remember Leafs fans; your argument would make more sense had your team won a championship at any point in the last 40+ years. So don't expect me to applaud your mentions of; Doug Gilmour, Dave Keon or any other former Leaf Captain since George Armstrong.