nickname, "the Moose," is a tribute to his size, strength and
determination. A player renowned for his leadership abilities and one of
the all-time leading NHL scorers, Messier emerged from the great Edmonton
Oilers teams of the 1980s to become a hockey superstar. He was a powerful
skater who combined playmaking skill and a goal-scoring touch with the
toughness necessary to survive and thrive in the corners. Six times his
teams sipped from the Stanley Cup and on two occasions Messier took home
the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.
Howe, Messier is credited with being the most complete player of his
generation. He was a power forward, a two-way left winger and sometime
center with talent and overwhelming power and size and an unpredictable
mean streak. Messier acquired his multidimensional game during a childhood
filled with hockey in his home town of Edmonton. At age four, he was attending
his father's minor-league practices. At age 11, he was a stick boy for the
Spruce Grove Mets in the Alberta
junior leagues, the team he would star on just five years later.
Messier was a big kid, just 16 and
weighing close to 200 pounds and his talent was so obvious that he skipped
major junior and college hockey altogether. The Indianapolis Racers of the
World Hockey Association gave him a five game tryout when he was a 17
year-old in 1978. Though he failed to register a point and was released by
the Racers just before the franchise folded, he did celebrate his 18th
birthday in the pro ranks after the Cincinnati Stingers, a competing WHA
team, signed him as a free agent and he played 47 games for that team. In
1979 he was selected by the Edmonton Oilers as the team's second choice,
48th overall in the NHL's Entry Draft.
Messier began the 1979-80 season with the Oilers, but the poise and
professionalism that would one-day make him the game's premier leader, were
still being developed by the NHL rookie. He scored 50 goals in 1981-82, his
third season, double his total of the year before,
and was selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team.
When the Oilers won their first of
four Stanley Cup championships in five years in 1984, Messier, on a team
with such stars as Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr,
was the most valuable player in the playoffs, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy for his 26
post-season points and his undeniable leadership. Gretzky was a dominant
offensive player and Edmonton
recorded new highs for team scoring. But the Oilers in their glory years
were also a tight defensive group. Messier, fast, powerful and physical,
was a perfect two-way player, able to excel at both ends of the ice.
Gretzky and Messier were very
close during their years in Edmonton.
When Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, Messier was made
captain, though many predicted the Oilers' run of success would leave with
the Great One. In the 1989 playoffs, the Oilers were upset by Gretzky's
Kings in a close first-round series and the skepticism surrounding the team
seemed to be merited. One season later, however, in 1989-90, Messier had a
career year, finishing second to Gretzky in the points race with 129. He
also won the Hart Trophy over Boston's
Ray Bourque as the league's most valuable player. In the playoffs, with the
Oilers down 2-1 in games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the semifinals,
Messier took over in the fourth game, scoring two goals and collecting two
assists in Edmonton's
4-2 road win. His one-man display impressed everyone who watched, Chicago players,
coaches and fans included, and his all-time performance spurred the Oilers.
Edmonton swept the remaining games from Chicago and easily handled Bourque and the Bruins in
the finals to give Messier his fifth Stanley Cup ring with Edmonton.
The small market Oilers struggled
following their 1990 victory, and Messier was
traded to the New York Rangers prior to the 1991-92 season for Bernie
Nichols, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk.