In the midst of three NHL playoff series going to a Game 7 in the first round, Mark Messier wouldn’t recommend a captain guaranteeing a victory in an elimination game as he did 14 years ago with the New York Rangers.
Messier admits now he grabbed a tiger by the tail when he declared to the New York media his Rangers would win Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference final after falling behind 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers did win that game on the strength of Messier’s natural hat trick in the third period and went on to win the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
Messier, now 47 and retired since 2005, says he didn’t really think it through when he made his bold statement to the media.
“When I was faced with the press the day before the game, I thought ‘what a great idea it would be for the players to wake up the day of the game and find out how much I believed in us and how I thought we could go in there and win that game,”‘ Messier said in a phone interview Tuesday from his home in Hilton Head, S.C.
“My oversight was 14 million other New Yorkers and the New Jersey Devils were going to read the same article. I was so focused in, I thought only the 20 players on our team were going to read that paper.”
Calgary Flames coach Mike Keenan, who was at the helm of the Rangers that season, seems to doubt Messier had guaranteed the victory at all.
“They’re actually fabricated to a certain extent because I was within earshot of Mark when he made the comments,” Keenan said recently in Calgary. “It was a runaway horse at that point. There was no sense even trying to stop it.
“I think he was addressing the team and said ‘we’re going to win’ to the group and somebody in the media picked it up and the rest is history and legendary now.”
But Messier said he did make what is now known in NHL lore as ‘The Guarantee’ to the New York media.
“Everybody has different versions and memories and it was a long time ago,” Messier said. “I think what Mike meant more than anything was I wasn’t trying to come out and make a brash statement.
“The purpose was to try and instil confidence in the team.”
Messier, who also won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and who entered the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, said even his family was a little surprised when his comments blared from newspaper headlines the following morning.
“I’d never talked like that in any series in 20-some years of playing,” he said. “They were a little surprised.”
He’s not about to tell any current captain still in the NHL post-season that they should follow his lead
“I would recommend for any captain to do what he feels is necessary at the time,” Messier said. “It wasn’t that I was being cocky. The intention was pure and that’s about the only thing that matters.”
Messier is currently in his second year as the face of the Bring Home the Stanley Cup contest, sponsored by CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and Pepsico.
Fans are asked to submit video entries of their playoff rituals and the winner gets Messier showing up on their doorstep with the Stanley Cup.
But Messier has expressed an interest in becoming an NHL GM in the past. He’s ready to do less promoting of the NHL and more working in it.
“I’m definitely ready to get back in the game,” he said. “It’s been four years now and I’m anxious to get back in some capacity and help a team win.”