About 600 people came to salute Messier in a ceremony at the hockey rink named for the Edmonton Oilers legend. Later Tuesday, Messier was to have his No. 11 Oilers jersey retired and raised to the rafters of Rexall Place prior to a game against ex-teammate Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes.
“After all is said and done and retirement has come and the championships are gone, it’s really about the people you have met and the relationships you’ve been able to forge over the years,” Messier told the crowd.
Behind him on stage stood a number of his teammates when Messier, who grew up in St. Albert, played for the junior hockey St. Albert Saints in the late 1970s.
He was given the ceremonial key, a print of one of the first St. Albert arenas he played in and another of his favourite after-hours haunt, the Bruin Inn.
“Who can ever forget the Bruin Inn?” he said with a laugh as the crowd cheered.
He recounted a story after the Oilers’ first Stanley Cup win in May 1984. He and teammate Kevin Lowe took the trophy to the Bruin Inn on a sleepy midweek afternoon.
There were a few patrons nursing their drinks. One, he said, tipped his cap up, sauntered over and stared at the silver mug. He wasn’t alone for long.
“Within 15 or 20 minutes, you couldn’t get in the door. The phone calls started coming in. It turned out to be the best party in 1984 and it was right here at the Bruin Inn,” he said to cheers.
He said years later he could still remember getting the phone call that the Bruin Inn had burned down, “and just feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach.”
The 46-year-old Messier, with his family and friends looking on, also received a 4,000-signature poster from well-wishers and a bronze plaque that will hang in the Mark Messier Arena in this city, located on Edmonton’s northern outskirts.
In ceremonies prior to the Coyotes game, Messier’s No. 11 was to be raised beside the banners of fellow honourees Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, and Al Hamilton.
On Monday, Messier was honoured at a downtown celebration and at a storytelling fundraiser with former Oilers at the Winspear concert hall.
The city has announced it will rename a portion of the historic St. Albert Trail after Messier. The road links the two cities and Messier told fans Tuesday it has special meaning for him given the long miles he logged driving on it before and after games.
“The wins, the defeats, the good times and bad times – I can’t think of a better road to have in my honour.”
In a 25-year NHL career, Messier set a new standard for power forwards, combining speed and skill with crushing bodychecks and devastating elbows.
He won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton and one with the New York Rangers, who retired his jersey after he left the game in 2005.
He is the league’s second-highest all-time scorer with 1,887 points – behind only Gretzky.