The NHL team and the city are planning two days of festivities to honour their favourite son. Get ready for Moosapalooza. “The (pre-game) ceremonies can get long and arduous as they were with Stevie Y (Steve Yzerman)” Oiler president Patrick LaForge told reporters Wednesday. Yzerman’s No. 19 jersey was retired Jan. 2 in a 90-minute ceremony prior to the Detroit Red Wings’ game against the Anaheim Ducks.
“There was no opportunity for fans there to reach out to Stevie, and we want to do that here and we want to do it with Mark.
“He’s a native son and an Edmonton boy and he wants this.”
The man known affectionately as Moose will have his number retired in a ceremony prior to the Oilers’ game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 27.
The day before, thousands of fans are expected to jam the city’s downtown Churchill Square to pay tribute to him.
That night, Messier and others including ex-Oilers Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey will swap stories on stage at the city’s Winspear Centre concert hall in a $350-a-ticket charity fundraiser.
LaForge said Oiler great Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes coach, can’t attend the fundraiser but will have a role in the jersey retirement at the game.
He noted that Feb. 26 is a busy time as it’s NHL trade deadline day.
“(Ex-Oiler GM) Glen Sather was considering moving his (New York Rangers) scouting staff out here so he can be a part of it,” said LaForge.
Messier’s number will join the sweaters of Gretzky, Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri and Al Hamilton. The Oilers will wear vintage blue jerseys from the Messier-Gretzky heyday of the 1980s.
Messier was not at the announcement but said in a news release, “I was born and raised in Edmonton and spent the first twelve years of my NHL career playing for the Oilers. Having my number raised to the rafters of Rexall Place, where we accomplished so much as a team and I made so many lifelong friends, is truly an honour.”
The game is sold out but will be televised. The Oilers community foundation has offered to buy back tickets from fans, but so far have only collected 10.
“We’ve found places for all the Messier clan,” said LaForge.
He said he doesn’t feel the $350 fundraiser ticket (two-thirds of which is tax-deductible) puts the celebration out of the range of Oiler fans who don’t have deep pockets.
“It is higher priced, but it’s a donation idea and there will be a public event at Churchill Square.” When Gretzky’s jersey was retired, the city re-named the expressway that runs past Rexall Place Wayne Gretzky Drive. There is also a statue of him outside the building hoisting the Stanley Cup.
LaForge said some kind of lasting tribute is in the works for Messier, but wouldn’t be more specific.
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, with LaForge for the announcement, also wouldn’t comment.
“We’ll see,” he said.
After being drafted by the Oilers in 1979, Messier played in the NHL for a quarter-century and became the ultimate power forward – a hard-skating goal scorer with muscle.
He won six Stanley Cups – five with Edmonton and one with the New York Rangers.
As soaring salaries hammered small-market teams in the 1990s, Messier was traded from Edmonton to the Rangers in 1991, where he was lionized as Mark Messiah and led the Blueshirts to the championship in 1994.
The Rangers retired his jersey just over a year ago on January 12 in a ceremony that included members of the ’94 team.
He retired in September 2005 as the second-leading scorer in league history – behind only Gretzky – with 1,887 points (694 goals and 1,193 assists).