TODAY'S PAPER
37° Good Morning
37° Good Morning
Sports

Oh Captain, my captain

For an hour and 17 minutes last night, Madison Square

Garden was transported back to the glorious spring of 1994, with former players

wearing jerseys from that memorable season and Rangers captain Mark Messier

lifting the Stanley Cup to a thunderous ovation.

But the trip back in time ended with a tableau that will resonate long into

the future: Messier, almost 45 years old, tears streaming down his cheeks and

holding his 2 1/2-year-old son, Douglas, in his arms, watching his No. 11 being

hoisted to the rafters as his family, former teammates, coaches and 18,200

standing fans paid tribute to his remarkable legacy.

"I look up at the banner and I don't see No. 11 with my name on it,"

Messier said afterward. "I see all the things and all the people, my family, my

parents, the commitment that was made by so many people to put me in this

position to have that sweater retired. To me, it's almost like a highlight

reel."

Indeed, much of the ceremony - which was in the works for months since

Messier announced his retirement from the NHL after 25 years last Sept. 12 -

was like a highlight reel.

After watching a video of Messier's career, the fans, many of whom paid

thousands of dollars for tickets to the event, chanted "Mess-si-er" and "Let's

go, Rangers." When most of Messier's teammates from the 1994 team were

introduced, in numerical order, they were showered with roars of approval.

Alex Kovalev, who plays for Montreal, arrived from Denver. Brian Leetch,

now with the Bruins, only made it to Manhattan on Wednesday night to join in

festivities with his former team, and sent a video salute.

The largest ovations greeted Adam Graves, Stephane Matteau, Esa Tikkanen

and Sergei Nemchinov, but chants of "Ed-die, Ed-die" also rung out for former

Rangers goalkeeper Ed Giacomin, whose No. 1 long preceded Messier's banner in

the upper reaches of the Garden.

"He brought something to New York that Rod [Gilbert] and I never could,"

Giacomin said before the game. "When they won in 1994, we felt we won."

Messier watched the first 45 minutes of the ceremony from a lower-level

room before striding past the Rangers' locker room, touching hands with current

Rangers lined up against the wall, and onto the red carpet toward center ice.

Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and gray tie, and determined to control

his emotions as best as possible, he acknowledged the resounding applause by

raising his arms and bowing to each side of the Garden.

Messier, an avid fisherman, was presented a captain's chair for his boat,

new rods from the current Rangers, a portrait of the Stanley Cup victory parade

down the Canyon of Heroes and a trip to Ireland for him and 20 members of his

family.

Former goaltender Mike Richter, whose No. 35 was retired in 2004, evoked

laughter from the crowd when he said the ceremony was being "sponsored by

Kleenex," referring to Messier's penchant for weeping at such tributes, and

asking why the bald Messier needed "a barber's chair," gesturing toward the

captain's seat.

As expected, Richter and Graves praised Messier's leadership on and off the

ice. Before the game, Richter tried to explain his impact.

"His personality is so big, it was a perfect marriage for New York," he

said. "He came here and hockey players aren't normally that big; the game's

fairly small here. Mark transcended hockey."

But Messier repeated his mantra from previous years, saying nothing would

have been accomplished without the players, the organization and support from

the fans.

He thanked everyone from ownership to the elevator operators at the Garden,

and managed to stem the flow of tears except for certain moments, such as when

he thanked the fans and the city for embracing him.

"I came here to win a Stanley Cup and what I got was a life experience,"

the Edmonton-born Messier said, adding that he and his family learned "there

were more things to life than hockey."

The fans appreciated Messier's 10-year stop on Broadway.

"Those tears were genuine," said Kevin Canberg, 49, a retired firefighter

from Merrick who watched from Section 419 with his son, Kevin Jr. "It was a

classy ceremony, a celebration of hockey. As a dad, it really made me proud. I

was crying."

Mark Messier by the numbers

6: Stanley Cup championships (including 1994 with Rangers).

15: NHL All-Star Games.

27: Seasons played (25 NHL, 2 World Hockey Association).

109: NHL playoff goals (13 fewer than Wayne Gretzky).

694: NHL goals (seventh all-time).

1,193: NHL assists (third all-time, trailing only Gretzky and Ron Francis).

1,756: NHL games played (second by 11 games to Gordie Howe).

1,887: NHL points (second behind Wayne Gretzky's 2,857).

Awards

Conn Smythe Trophy

(playoff MVP) 1983-84.

Hart Trophy

(regular-season MVP)

1989-90, 1991-92.

Lester B. Pearson Trophy

(outstanding player)

1989-90, 1991-92.

New York Sports