Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Tuesday February 27 started out as Messier Day in Edmonton and St. Albert. But it ended differently, as The Day "Captain Canada" was Traded. That's long-time Oiler star Ryan Smith. Poor Moose - his special day overshadowed by the ruthless business of modern hockey. Before the trade with the Islanders shifted from ugly rumour to sad truth, former St. Albertan and St. Albert Saint, Mark Messier, was feted here in St. Albert at the new gigantic rec centre, servus place, which contains Mark Messier arena. A nice ceremony, with hockey historian/St. Albert Mayor Paul Chalifoux presiding and Messier saying all the right things.
Many St. Albertans of a certain age have a Messier story or two. Many of them involve Mark, the Stanley Cup and the (sadly missed but not forgotten) Bruin Inn. The Bruin was the legendary beer barn, located right next door to the Library and St. Albert Place until someone redeveloped it into the ground. So too with other infamous sites of Oiler's celebrations: Edmonton's Sidetrack Café, which moved to a new location to make way for some crappy condos, but finally expired last week. And the Grinder on 124th St burned down a few months ago. Mark will need to find a new place to celebrate his #11 sweater being hoisted to the rafters!
There are some Messier stories in Jeff Z. Klein’s well-written biography, Messier. But Klein, an American, and a New Yorker for heaven’s sake, focuses a fair amount on Messier’s post-Oilers career. We prefer to ignore this part of his career hereabouts. Yes, yes, he guaranteed a win. Yes, he won the Cup for the Rangers. But he won 5 for us.
Messier’s Oilers career and some of his off-ice antics are covered in several earlier Oilers’ books. Most recently our own St Albert Gazette reporter, Peter Boer, came out with The Edmonton Oilers: the Players, Games and Stories behind Hockey's Legendary Team in 2006. The Edmonton Journal published a reverent coffee table tome in 2003, Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club: Celebrating 25 Years in the Heartland of Hockey. But for Messier tales, look to The Glory Barons: The Saga of the Edmonton Oilers by Douglas Hunter and Edmonton’s Hockey Knights: 79-99 by the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones.
Here's an apropos quote from the Jones' book, Kevin Lowe speaking (as a player) in 1991 about the impending trade of Mark Messier:
"The old Oiler flag better be lowered to half-mast, they're taking away the blood and guts of the organization. It's a very sad day in Oilers history."
Substitute "heart and soul" for "blood and guts" and you have exactly what you hear in coffee shops all around town today about Lowe's trade of Ryan Smyth!
Perhaps on this day of cold-hearted hockey trading, the best salve is The Game of Our Lives - Peter Gzowski’s classic look at the young Oilers of the 1980-81 season. Before the Gretzky trade, before the Tampas and the Carolinas, before the strike/lockout, there was a special bunch of talented youngsters right here in Edmonton that would soon set the world of hockey on fire. Gzowski followed the team for that season, right on the bus, and wrote one of the best hockey, best sports books about those Oilers, many of whom were on the Northlands Coliseum ice tonight to applaud Mark Messier, the menacing thug from St. Albert who cries at the drop of a hat and apparently reads philosophy.


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