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  • Friday, December 17, 1999

    Messier sets the example

    By BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

      VANCOUVER -- His mere presence is enough to make the people around Mark Messier better.

     He might be 38 years old and might not be as quick on his skates as he was when his NHL career started 19 years ago. But the Vancouver Canucks' captain has shown he can still play and be a consistent contributor.

     If you want proof, just ask his teammates.

     "He's still the best leader in hockey," said Canucks defenceman Adrian Aucoin yesterday.

     "He can still score goals, he can still set up (goals) and he can still play the game. And if he's got something to say, he'll say it."

     After missing 15 games with a knee injury, Mark "The Moose" Messier returned to the Vancouver lineup last night -- 10 days ahead of schedule -- and possibly just in time to help save the Canucks' playoff chances.

     Struggling since he suffered the injury Nov. 9 against the San Jose Sharks, Messier gave himself clearance to play against the Senators at GM Place after going through two days of strenuous practice and a light skate.

     "I'm feeling pretty good," said Messier, who made his return last night along with teammates Alexander Mogilny and Aucoin. "Hopefully, with the guys we have back, we can get some energy and get back into the playoff race. I want to come back and help make a difference."

     When he suffered the injury, Messier was supposed to be out the lineup for 6-8 weeks.

     AHEAD OF SCHEDULE

     But his return is 10 days ahead of schedule. That's a credit to the hard work he's done off the ice.

     The Canucks have been chastised for spending $6 million US a year on Messier since signing him as an unrestricted free agent two summers ago. However, it might be the best move they've ever made.

     "He's a great player," said Ottawa coach Jacques Martin. "Just having him back on the ice and in the dressing room is going to give them a boost."

     Without Messier in the lineup, the Canucks went from first place in their division to one of the worst teams in the Western Conference. They had only one win their last 12 games after last night's 2-1 loss to the Senators.

     Their power play was a meagre 3-for-64 in the stretch that Messier missed and the Canucks allowed 13 short-handed goals. Now, they're fighting for one of the final two playoff spots in the West.

     "When you talk about Mark Messier, you have to talk about his leadership both on and off the ice," said Aucoin, an Ottawa native who was one of the club's top blueliners before he suffered a groin injury.

     Messier still has the piercing eyes which are sometimes enough to even scare his own teammates.

     STAND AND DELIVER

     He isn't afraid to stand up in the dressing room and speak his mind.

     "Everyone you ask is going to tell you what a great leader this guy is," Aucoin said. "Whether he's on the ice or in the dressing room, he's the kind of player who can say something to settle the young guys down and he's going to tell you how he feels straight from the heart."

     The Canucks have the option to buy Messier out of the final year of his contract next season for $2 million US, but it's doubtful after this experience that they'd even think about going in that direction.

     It's pretty clear, Vancouver has a tough time without him. The Canucks certainly believe Messier's timing for a return couldn't have been more perfect.

     "Just getting him back is going to give us some energy," said Canucks coach Marc Crawford.
    VANCOUVER CANUCKS



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