TORONTO – Mark Messier is on board. And he hopes to bring Wayne Gretzky with him.
The new general manager of Canada’s entry at the 2010 IIHF World Hockey Championship would like to have The Great One coach the team in Germany.
Asked Wednesday if Gretzky is being considered for the job, Messier replied: “Yeah … for sure.”
He didn’t elaborate beyond that, noting instead that he’ll focus on assembling a management team before hiring his coaching staff.
There was no immediate word on whether Gretzky is interested in the position. He’s been out of hockey since stepping down as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes in September.
Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson has had discussions with Gretzky, but wouldn’t speculate about whether he’ll join the world championship team.
“Wayne’s been so good to Hockey Canada,” said Nicholson. “I’m not sure if Wayne will be there. I hope Wayne will be involved with Hockey Canada down the road. When it’s right, I’m sure Wayne will be back with (us).”
Gretzky and Messier won four Stanley Cups together with the Edmonton Oilers in 1980s and were also teammates for a season in New York.
Even if the men don’t end up working together in May, they will almost certainly speak before the tournament. Gretzky was GM of the 2001 world championship team and should have plenty to share about the experience.
Hockey Canada has made it a practice to get former NHL players involved in the event. Steve Yzerman has twice been GM while Luc Robitaille and Joe Nieuwendyk each served as assistants in recent years.
With 2010 being an Olympic year, Messier faces the unique challenge of trying to attract players that may already have been to one major international competition. He’s not sure if his profile will carry much weight when it comes time to start extending invitations.
“Maybe some players will look at that as a positive,” said Messier. “We can’t count on that. I think the idea is to look at every possibility we have as far as who’s available and sell them on the idea that this is a great experience.
“If someone’s not quite sure whether they want to be there then we might have to turn in a different direction.”
The roster will probably end up being similar to the young 2006 team that went to Latvia shortly after the Turin Games. There were five players on that fourth-place squad who were 21 or under – Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron and Brent Seabrook.
Messier is currently working as a special assistant to New York Rangers president Glen Sather. That role has him attending a lot of NHL games while also monitoring the team’s prospects.
The world championship assignment will expose him to some different aspects of management and already has him feeling the weight of expectations.
“This is a huge challenge and one with a big responsibility because you’re here to represent Canada,” said Messier. “We know how passionate the Canadians are about their hockey and how well we want to do in international hockey to give ourselves the status of being the best hockey country in the world.”
Canada opens the 2010 world championship on May 8 with a game against Italy in Mannheim, Germany. The medal round will be played in Cologne.
The country has appeared in the world championship final six times since 2003, winning three gold medals. Canada had to settle for silver the past two years after losing to Russia by one goal in consecutive gold-medal games.
“It has been challenging for Canadians to go over there and win in that environment,” said Messier.
The 48-year-old wore the Maple Leaf at five different international events, including the 1989 world championship. He had a chance to spend some time around the Canadian team at last year’s tournament in Switzerland and marvelled at how much it had grown since he played.
Nicholson approached Messier about taking the GM role during the Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend in November and was thrilled that he accepted the job.
“We have so many great leaders in the game of hockey and they want to be involved,” said Nicholson. “When you have talented people like Mark Messier that want to be there, that want to lead the team, I just sit back and smile.”
Even though Messier has made it clear that he intends to be a GM in the NHL one day, that desire wasn’t a major factor in his decision to fill this role.
“I’m not doing it to advance my own career,” said Messier. “I’m doing it solely for the opportunity and the challenge to do something special for Hockey Canada.”