With 1980’s rockers Def Leppard blasting in the dressing room and the Calgary Flames in town for the latest instalment in the Battle of Alberta, the 46-year-old Messier emerged wearing a full set of equipment and practised with his former team for about 30 minutes.
Talk about a flashback.
“It’s awesome that the Oilers let me come out,” said Messier, who has been in town since having his No. 11 jersey retired in a pre-game ceremony at Rexall Place on Tuesday. “When I first got into town, I didn’t have much time to visit.
“It’s great to see these young guys. This is a young, talented team with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. That’s the way it’s always been here.”
Between the music and the sight of Messier skating in full gear for the first time since he retired in 2005, all that was missing was his trademark glare and an appearance by Jim Peplinski or Joel Otto down the hall in the visiting dressing room.
Even Calgary coach Jim Playfair, a teammate of Messier’s for two games with the Oilers in 1983-84, peeked out from under the stands and watched as the Moose took a twirl.
“I got a little nervous actually when I saw the Flames were coming to town and I saw the equipment over there,” smiled Messier. “I said, ‘Holy mackerel, this is the real deal.’
“I’ll always remember the rivalry with both teams vying for the Stanley Cup and how both cities were behind there respective teams. In a way, it really pushed us to limits we didn’t know we could get to.”
Messier skated full drills and did line rushes with the Oilers, many of whom were toddlers when he broke into the NHL in 1979.
“It’s definitely kind of neat seeing some history out there,” said defenceman Matt Greene.
Greene, 23, didn’t say too much to Messier, although he did apologize for firing a pass into his skates.
“You get a little nervous,” he said. “You want to do well. You want to impress him a little bit. He looked good. I was really impressed with his skill-set and how soft his hands were. You always here about his toughness and how great a leader he was. He was real smooth out there.
“I said sorry for not hitting him on the tape. He said, ‘OK.’ That was enough for me. I was pretty happy with that.”
Messier, who retired second in NHL career scoring with 1,887 regular season points, is skating to get into shape to play a father-son game with eldest son, Lyon, on March 17.
Still, reporters, noting Messier looked like he still had game, couldn’t help but ask if anything more could be read into it.
“Was he looking OK?” quipped coach Craig MacTavish. “He actually said to me he understood why old boxers get in trouble. He said that when he put his gear on the other night when we retired his jersey, he said he felt like he could play.
“It’s always good to have a player of his stature able to rub shoulders with some of your young guys. It can be a little bit of a welcome distraction right now.”
Unfortunately for the Oilers, a comeback by the former captain isn’t in the cards.
“You’re not going to see me out there again,” said Messier. “It just feels so good to get out and play. I haven’t had an opportunity the last couple of years to play all that often.”