January 12, 2006

NY Rangers retire Messier’s jersey at Garden party

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mark Messier, who led the New York
Rangers in 1994 to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, had his
No. 11 jersey retired on Thursday in an emotional celebration
at Madison Square Garden.

Surrounded by many of his teammates from that Stanley Cup
winning team, members of his family and the Cup itself, Messier
watched as his No. 11 banner was slowly lifted to the rafters
to the strains of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

His was the fourth jersey ever retired by the Rangers,
joining Rod Gilbert (No. 7), Eddie Giacomin (No. 1) and Mike
Richter (No. 35), the goalie on the '94 championship team.

"This is like every big game I ever played condensed into
one night," said Messier, who had to stop several times to wipe
away tears and wait for his strong chin to stop quivering.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you."

The ceremony was held before the scheduled game that pitted
the Rangers against his former team Edmonton. Messier's No. 11
was painted behind each net and sewn onto every Rangers jersey.

Messier, who enjoys a passion for deep sea fishing, was
presented with a fishing chair and four sets of heavy rods and
reels. A gift of $211,000 was given to his favorite children's
charity and he also received a trip for his extended family to
Ireland to celebrate his mother's heritage.

Messier played his last game on March 31, 2004, ending a
brilliant 25-year career that saw him climb to second on the
all-time scoring list and collect six Stanley Cup titles.

The first five were won in his hometown with the Edmonton
Oilers. The last, and perhaps most tumultuous, was with the
Rangers in his adopted hometown of New York after coming to the
team in a trade in 1991 and becoming its inspirational leader.


Before the jersey was hoisted to the rafters, Messier
raised the Stanley Cup once more above his head to roars from
the fans, who once wondered when they would see the Rangers win
a Stanley Cup.

"He made us believe that the Stanley Cup was our destiny,"
said former teammate Adam Graves.

Twice named the league's most valuable player, Messier
amassed 694 career goals and trails only his former Oilers and
Rangers teammate Wayne Gretzky in total points with 1,887.

"He was perhaps the most complete athlete to ever put on a
pair of skates. But his true genius was his unparalleled
ability to bring out the best in others," said Richter.

Messier is perhaps best remembered in New York for the bold
guarantee he made when the Rangers faced elimination in the
playoffs during their '94 Stanley Cup run.

Before Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals against
the Devils in New Jersey, after dropping Game Five at home 4-1,
Messier guaranteed a win to keep New York hopes alive.

The Devils led 2-1 going into the third period but the
Rangers captain backed up his bravado by scoring three goals in
the third period for a 4-2 Rangers win.

The Rangers went on to win the seventh game against New
Jersey in double overtime and then claimed their long-coveted
Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks.