Opinion | Hockey legend Mark Messier is the author of a little tip for Auston Matthews and the Leafs: embrace ‘outside noise’

It was June 1994 and, as Mark Messier recalls, New York was “manic.”

The New York Rangers, who were enduring the longest championship drought in hockey at the time, appeared to some eyes to be in the midst of an epic meltdown. Once seemingly in control of a Stanley Cup final against the Vancouver Canucks, the Rangers had seen a 3-1 series lead disappear in the confusion of a pair of three-goal losses. And so when Messier and his teammates landed in Gotham for a harrowing Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, they were well aware of the stakes. Now that hockey was in the back pages of the city’s famous tabloids, the Rangers could consider themselves one of two things: champions or strangling artists.

“The fans were hyperventilating,” is the way Messier remembers it in his new book, “No One Wins Alone.”

“You could forgive anyone for believing that the curse of this franchise was real.”

Fortunately for sports fans in New York, not to mention Edmonton, Messier stands as one of the all-time hockey greats because instead of being overwhelmed by the pressure of those moments, he often found a way to delight in them. On Game 7 day of that 1994 final, Messier came up with an idea while driving onto the track.

“In this powerful and vibrant city where so many important things happen every day, nothing was more important today than the game we were about to play,” he writes.

The fact that the idea, far from scaring Messier, fueled him, probably largely explains why he’s a Hall of Famer who never fails to be mentioned on the game’s great captains list. Messier not only scored the winning goal that delivered that long-awaited Cup in 94, his sixth and last championship. He is a two-time Hart Trophy winner and third in the NHL’s all-time points table. This season, now in his 60s, he has resurfaced from a relatively low-profile post-career existence as an ESPN analyst and author.

“To be honest with you, I thought I’d walk away from hockey when I retired, but it’s the furthest thing from what happened,” Messier said in a recent interview. “I watch hockey every day of the season and every playoff. I love hockey. “

Among the many insights in Messier’s excellent treatise on leadership and team dynamics, perhaps what strikes you most is that as a player, he loved the game as a whole, not just the lifestyle, the camaraderie, and the competition, but the exaggeration that surrounds it, the so-called “outside noise” at which many players today roll their eyes disinterestedly.

“It’s called passion. I can’t imagine playing in an environment that didn’t have that kind of passion from the fanbase, ”Messier said.

Mark Messier allows Rangers fans to touch the Stanley Cup after concluding the 1994 final.

Lately you may get the idea that certain members of the Maple Leafs inhabit their illuminated positions in the hectic center of the hockey universe with relative trepidation. In the early days of this season, Mitch Marner has often worn his local lightning rod status as a gorilla on his slumped shoulders. Auston Matthews has repeatedly acknowledged his lack of affection for “outside noise,” and recently argued that the franchise’s failures are “overdramatized.”

“(Leaf fans) obviously want us to be successful and so do we, but I think sometimes passion blinds their brain to normal thinking,” Matthews recently told ESPN.

When asked about those glimpses of an occasionally awkward residence in Toronto’s undeniable hot cauldron, Messier said that in his mindset, the Toronto NHLers would be best served to embrace all that comes with being a Leaf: brains. blind and all.

“For me, accepting that will be a much more effective way to deal with that than fighting,” Messier said. “Because if you hug him, I don’t think he will become a burden.”

Fair enough. But, Messier was asked, about the evils of social media, a cultural phenomenon that he and his contemporaries never needed to navigate.

“If you are doing the right things, if you are making the right decisions, if you are focusing on the team, the game, yourself as a competitor and player, if you are growing … social media shouldn’t matter,” Messier said. “If there is good character there, it shouldn’t matter.”

Not that Messier, in his book, makes any claims for immediate perfection. He counts his rookie days with a punctuality problem: late for practices and late for a team flight that resulted in Oilers coach Glen Sather putting Messier on a plane to a four-game penance in the minors. . It tells the story of a trip early in his career to pick up Wayne Gretzky for practice, during which Messier found an Oilers schedule hanging on the Great One’s refrigerator. Upon closer inspection, Messier noted the calendar marked with Gretzky’s handwritten expectations for production on upcoming games. As in: “November 15 against Calgary – 2 goals / 2 assists; Nov. 17 vs. Boston: 3 goals / 2 assists; November 19 against Philadelphia: 3 goals / 3 assists “.

“He was planning his next 10 games or his next calendar month; I was planning where we were going to go for beers after the game, ”Messier said with a laugh.

What, Messier was asked, has stopped the talented Leafs from breaking through? Messier said he is reluctant to criticize a team from the outside. But last spring, Toronto had its own team president, Brendan Shanahan, who described the problem as a lack of “killer instinct.” Messier, in his book, offers thoughts along those lines.

How important is the heart? You can have heart and commitment without supreme talent and still try, ”Messier writes. “If you have talent without a heart? No possibility.”

Therein lies Messier’s essential advice for players plugging their ears from outside noise: don’t run away from the privilege of a city that considers its games important. Open your heart to manic hyperventilation and breathe.

“Ultimately, in the end, in our world, people will know who you are in one way or another. You can’t hide the truth, ”Messier said. “The opportunity to be front and center in a city like Toronto or New York or Edmonton where expectations are high, just embracing the full experience is a better way to look at it.”


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