"I was taken by surprise. My involvement really stems from the 1994 Stanley Cup team," Messier said before he, former teammate Mike Richter and former Islanders scout and assistant GM and Red Wings executive Jim Devellano received their awards in the annual ceremony in Manhattan last night.
"Having two American-born players leading the way with Richter and [Brian] Leetch, them having gone through the U.S. Olympic program, that team seemed to catch the imagination of a lot of people, not only people in hockey, but set a great example for kids," Messier said. "I really accept this award on behalf of my teammates and the organization, that year we really did a lot for hockey . . . Hopefully, the way I conducted myself as a professional was something kids can take advantage of."
A Patrick quote displayed in the Gotham Hall lobby about the innocence of playing on frozen ponds, "uncontaminated by adults and unspoiled by the egos of elders" struck a chord, Messier said.
As a youth, Messier didn't remember leaving Edmonton to attend tournaments and lamented how somehow "we cannibalized youth sports with tournaments and travel and families making huge commitments . . . Tournaments have gone from a weekend thing to an every weekend thing, and from Saturday and Sunday to where they've got to be there Thursday . . . It disrupts the family life. There's something to be said about the Sunday barbecue . . . We're putting too much emphasis on it at too early an age.
"Less than 17 percent of first-round picks make it to the National Hockey League, so if you start looking at the numbers, you're missing the whole objective. That's where we've gotten off the beaten path."
Richter took the American route to stardom. He attended a development camp at 13 and moved up the ladder to the Olympic teams. "I was blown away by the level of competition, not just kids from New York, Long Island and Pennsylvania. To be around [Soviet goaltender] Vladislav Tretiak, it was incredible."
But Richter, 43, who attended Yale after he retired and now is an executive in an environmental consulting firm, downplayed his performances on Olympic and World Cup teams as having an impact on kids. "It wasn't anything like what the 1980 team did for my generation," he said.