ALSO ON SLAM!
Thursday, September 23, 1999
Messier ready to begin 22nd pro seasonTORONTO (CP) -- Mark Messier is healthy, knock on wood, and eager to begin his 22nd pro hockey season.
Is there one big year left in the veteran centre?
"I sure hope so," he says. "Every season brings new hope and uncertainty.
"It did when I was 21, and still does when I'm 38. I'm really looking to have a great season and to getting the team back in the playoffs. We'll take it from there."
His body has taken its knocks, but he hasn't lost the desire to win that made him one of the best.
"I'm having a great time," he said after a morning skate to loosen up for an exhibition game Thursday night between his Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. "I guess 22 years is a long time to play but it's exciting to still be playing.
"I enjoy being part of a team, and trying to get the team back into the playoffs and the whole journey that goes with that."
Injuries limited Messier to 59 games last season. He wound up with 48 points including 13 goals. There were 31 other NHL centres with more points. But he says he feels good and is ready to rebound.
Messier was on championship Edmonton teams in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990. He was named league MVP in 1990 and 1992. He helped the New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Most of his buddies from his early Edmonton days, including Wayne Gretzky, have retired. Messier plays on.
"Over 22 years, a lot of changes happen -- the game has changed," he said. " "Players and people and situations and teams and the league and everything else has changed along with it.
"That's to be expected when you've been involved in something as long as I have."
No active NHL player has scored more than Messier's 610 goals or accumulated more than his 1,660 points.
He was a free-agent signing by the Canucks in the summer of 1997, and Vancouver has yet to make the playoffs with Messier in the lineup.
"We definitely need to have a good season," Messier said. "It's been a tough couple of years since I've been in Vancouver but, hopefully, we can turn things around and have a good season.
"The overall feeling is that the team is better than it has been. But we can sit here and talk about what we can and should be able to do. The proof is always in the pudding once the season starts. We're not more talented than anybody else in the league, that's for sure. So, for in order for us to be able to win we have to play as a team, get solid goaltending, and the players who are supposed to play well have to play well. That's always the way it is from year to year. It never changes."
Coach Marc Crawford has great respect for his captain.
"He's our leader," Crawford said. "He logs a great deal of ice time and we believe that when Mark is fresh he's still a premier player in the league.
"He's one of the great playmakers in the game right now. His best attribute is his competitiveness. He's been able to parlay a long career from all those intangible traits that set him above a lot of normal people. All those attributes are beneficial to us because we're a young, developing team."
Crawford has Messier centring a line between Bill Muckalt, 25, and Markus Naslund, 25.
"Mark doesn't need to be motivated," Crawford added. "Mark understands the game better than most coaches in the league.
"He knows a lot about what it takes to win. At this stage in his career, it's a challenge for him with our club because we are a developing club, but he's accepted the challenge very well. He's terrific."
That's an adjective Messier is hoping can be applied to his season when all is said and done. And there might be another big one left inside him. Don't make the mistake of suggesting, not to his face anyway, that he's over the hill.