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Monday, September 12, 2005
On the Hrink: My top Messier memories

By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

What can I possibly say about Mark Messier's amazing 25-year career? He did it all. Then, he did it again … and again … and again.

You know about his numerous awards and honors. You know about his six Stanley Cups. You know he's going into the Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible. He is a one-of-a-kind athlete.

Messier (I've always loved to say that name) has been a special figure in the game for a quarter of a century. Think about that. A quarter of a century. How many athletes can say that?

He could have come back for another season. He could have come back to break Gordie Howe's record for most games played. He only needed to skate in 11 more games to equal the mark. But Messier has never really been about individual records. He said as much on his retirement conference call. Instead, No. 11 exits a symbolic 11 games behind Mr. Hockey. That's probably how it should be.

Messier certainly evokes many memories for hockey fans from small-town Edmonton to big-city New York. I'll leave you with the three Messier moments that stand out for me:

The Guarantee
"We'll Win Tonight." That was the headline screaming across the back page of the New York tabloids on May 25, 1994. With his team down 3-2 in a classic Eastern Conference finals series against the Devils, the Rangers' captain guaranteed a Game 6 road victory. And, carrying the extra weight of 54 years of franchise failure, Messier delivered. New York was down 2-0 in the second period until Messier assisted on Alexei Kovalev's goal that cut the Devils' lead. Then, in a surreal third period, he scored the tying and winning goals, and he added an insurance tally into an empty net. Simply amazing!

The First Time
For me, the Messier legend started during Game 3 of the 1984 Stanley Cup finals against the four-time defending champion Islanders. With the series tied at 1, Messier electrified the Edmonton crowd, dashing through the neutral zone like a runaway train. After motoring over the blue line, he moved around Isles defenseman Gord Dineen and ripped a wrister past Hall of Fame goalie Billy Smith. At that moment, I knew the great Islanders were done. Messier scored a pair of goals in that critical Game 3. In the Oilers' first Cup year, Messier was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP.

The Ultimate Performance
With Wayne Gretzky long gone to the Los Angeles Kings, Messier remained in Edmonton seeking a fifth Cup heading into the 1989-90 season. In the Western Conference finals, the Oilers found themselves trailing 2-1 in the series. In the old Chicago Stadium, the Blackhawks seemed primed to take a stranglehold on the series. In fact, then-Oilers coach John Muckler would later say that if his team hadn't won Game 4, it wouldn't have survived the postseason. Against that backdrop, Messier lit up the night, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on two others as the Oilers skated away with a 4-2 win. Many longtime Messier watchers say this was the greatest performance of his career. The Oilers went on to beat the Bruins for Cup win No. 5.

EJ Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send EJ a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.