More than six years after ending his NHL career, Mark Messier is still figuring out where his off-ice future lies.
The next step in his personal development will come in the form of two coaching assignments with the national team—next month’s Deutschland Cup and the Spengler Cup in December.
Messier has spent virtually his entire life around the game, but this will be his first chance to coach.
“I love hockey and feel I have a lot to offer in a lot of different areas,” he said Tuesday. “Without getting too far ahead of myself, I’m just looking at this as a great opportunity and another stepping stone for the future.”
He’ll have the chance to draw on some experience. Rick Chernomaz, who coached the Canadian team to the Deutschland Cup title in 2008, will join him as an assistant for that event in Munich.
At the Spengler Cup, he’ll be joined by Doug Shedden, the former Finnish national team coach who now works for EV Zug in Switzerland.
They’ll be valuable resources at events where Canada will be using predominantly European-based players.
“I haven’t seen a lot of them play,” said Messier. “So having somebody over there who knows the players will certainly help.”
Hockey Canada doesn’t have any concerns about him learning on the job. Brad Pascall, the organization’s vice-president of hockey operations and national teams, says Messier brought up the possibility of coaching in a conversation earlier this year.
If it was someone other than Messier, the lack of experience would have been a major concern.
“There’s no doubt he’s going to be prepared,” said Pascall. “This is a challenge he really wants to embrace, and will embrace. I think Mark’s playing experience and (his ability) to deal with people and being prepared will overcome his lack of head coach experience.”
Messier’s first major role with the national team ended in disappointment. He was Canada’s general manager at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in May and put together a young team that finished seventh—the country’s worst result since 1992.
Assembling the world championship team is particularly tough in an Olympic year, especially since Hockey Canada decided not to ask any players who won gold at the Vancouver Games. Forward Corey Perry was the lone member of both squads because he volunteered to come to Germany.
Messier has had some time to reflect on the world championship and wouldn’t change much about his approach. He believes young players like John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Evander Kane and Tyler Myers will be better off for the experience.
“I liked our team,” said Messier. “We could have gone two different directions and we chose to go with the youth and try to develop the kids. Hopefully, the experience might pay dividends in 2014 (at the Olympics) in Sochi.
“Although inexperienced, I think we’ll look back at that team in a few years and see what a great team we had. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the results that we would have liked, but other than that there’s not too many changes I would have made.”
Messier currently works in the New York Rangers front office as a special assistant to president Glen Sather.
Despite his new coaching roles with Hockey Canada, he cautioned against making the assumption that he’ll be eyeing a job behind an NHL bench down the road.
“I think it’s getting a little too far ahead right now,” said Messier. “For me personally, I’m looking at it as an opportunity to really explore different ways that I might be able to help out, and what really appeals to me the most.
“To me, I would say it’s more of an exploratory opportunity to coach and to see how I enjoy it. I’m not really looking that far ahead.”