September 12, 2005

Hall of Famer Messier calls time after 25-year career

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mark Messier retired on Monday, ending
a staggering 25-year NHL Hall of Fame career that included six
Stanley Cup championships and second place in the individual
all-time scoring list.

"I really had the time to take my time and see how I felt,"
said Messier as NHL teams returned to training camps for the
first time since a labor dispute wiped out all of last season.

"Not come to a decision before I was ready to make it. It's
right for me and my family. I feel good about it.

"I was able to play 26 years, or whatever it is now, and
walk away healthy. It's a tough situation because we all know
how much fun it is to play."

A feared and menacing presence and gifted leader on and off
the ice, Messier claimed four of his championship rings in the
1980s with the Edmonton Oilers, forging an NHL dynasty
alongside good friend Wayne Gretzky.

When Gretzky left for the Los Angeles Kings, Messier stayed
behind in the Northern Alberta city to guide the Oilers to yet
another Stanley Cup.

However, Messier's greatest achievement did not come in the
Canadian heartland but on Broadway where he captained the New
York Rangers to the 1994 championship to end a 54-year Stanley
Cup drought.

After Messier announced his retirement, the Rangers
immediately said they would retire his number 11 jersey in a
ceremony before a game against the Oilers on January 12.


"I hear about it every day, every day," the 44-year-old
Messier told about the 1994 championship. "I've heard
about it from fans and people who were there.

"I knew the magnitude (of the Rangers winning a Cup) from
the first year I was in New York. Certainly I came from a place
that was smaller, but had similar expectations.

"We were a team that had unbelievable talent and we played
for a common goal."

While Messier always stressed his team successes, his
trophy case bristled with individual honours and records.

He was twice voted league MVP, in 1990 and 1992, and was
named to the all-star team 15 times.

Messier, who also played for the Vancouver Canucks, ended
his career with 694 goals and 1,193 assists, his 1,887 points
second only to Gretzky's 2,857.

His 109 post-season goals and 295 playoff points also trail
only Gretzky, who racked up 122 and 382 respectively.


It was thought Messier might return for one more season to
reach two more major milestones.

His 694 goals leave him just six shy of 700, a feat
achieved by only six players. He also walks away just 12 games
short of breaking Gordie Howe's record 1,767 career games.

"I'm healthy and I feel good," said Messier. "I feel I can
play and feel I could play. But I am retiring under the same
circumstances. Health is a big part of it.

"I've had a long career, I achieved a lot, there was
nothing left for me to achieve and it's time to move aside and
go on to something else."

A rare combination of skill, durability and a mean streak
meant that only the very brave ever challenged Messier. Few
ever had the better of the stone-jawed forward in a fight or
along the boards of an ice rink.

He gave no quarter and expected none, cruising the ice like
a tank.

Even in New York, a city bursting with luminaries in sport
and entertainment, the charismatic Canadian stood out with his
punishing style and menacing smile. He unquestionably held
A-list celebrity status.

"It's a bitter-sweet day for the National Hockey League,"
said Gretzky. "Mark has done so much for the game of hockey and
taught so many of our young players.

"He was an exceptional leader who was unselfish,
hard-working and dedicated. He truly loved the game."