Twenty years after winning Cup, Mark Messier a big fan of Rangers

Mark Messier and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar join Delta Air

Mark Messier and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar join Delta Air Lines, the official airline of the Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, on June 9, 2014 in New York City for a charity air hockey tournament. (Credit: Getty Images / Bryan Bedder)

Twenty years ago this week, Mark Messier picked up his infant nephew, Luke Esposito, and gently set him inside the Stanley Cup trophy that his Rangers team had just won by beating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.

On Monday, he brought that same nephew, now a strapping 20-year-old hockey player for Harvard, back to Madison Square Garden for the first Stanley Cup Final game to be played in the arena since Messier scored the winning goal against the Canucks in Game 7.

"It doesn't seem like it's been 20 years," Messier told reporters before the Rangers faced off against the Kings in Game 3. "Back then, I had him in the Cup, and now he's a young man. Here we are 20 years later with another great opportunity for the Rangers to win the Cup."

Messier, one of the most beloved players in Rangers history, is a big fan of this Rangers team even though he no longer is an official part of the organization. Messier left the team last spring after being passed over for the coaching job, as Alain Vigneault was chosen to replace John Tortorella.

The six-time Stanley Cup champion with the Edmonton Oilers and the Rangers had spent the previous four years as a special assistant to Rangers general manager Glen Sather, his former coach with the Oilers.

Messier said he hasn't given much thought to what it would be like to be coaching the Rangers this season.

"No I haven't, but I obviously wouldn't have [said I was interested] if I didn't think I could do a good job," Messier said. "I had a good idea it would be a good time. But there are no guarantees, as they say. But I was willing to take on the challenge."

Instead, Messier has taken on the challenge of transforming the Knightsbridge Armory in the Bronx to the Knightsbridge National Ice Center.

When not working, he said he has attended a number of games this season, adding that his 10-year-old son is a big Rangers fan. Still, he has tried to keep a respectful distance from the team, believing that it is the current players' turn to be in the spotlight.

"It's been a great year as a fan," he said. "It's an easy team to cheer for. The lucky thing for me is I got a chance to meet these guys over the last four years working with the Rangers, and I can tell you there's a lot of character. It's great to see them have the opportunity they have right now."

In that way, Messier says he sees a lot of parallels between the 1994 team and this Rangers team. Messier believes that both teams captured the heart of New Yorkers -- not just New York hockey fans -- as they made their way through the playoffs.

"I think the fans could really identify with us," he said. "I think this team has done a good job of doing that, too. This is a team of good guys with good stories."

Messier said he still is amazed at just how important the 1994 team was to its fans. In fact, when asked if he's had to pay for a drink since winning the Stanley Cup, Messier laughed and said: "I've paid for a few. But not many."

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