First of all, I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day and remember what it is about. It’s not just a three-day weekend. It’s about remembering those who sacrificed so much for us.
Second, a memory … and it’s just a coincidence that it falls on Memorial Day, and I’m certainly not suggesting we recall it because of the holiday.
Today is the 15th anniversary of Mark Messier’s greatest game as a Ranger, Game 6 of the Eastern final against the Devils, when he guaranteed victory and delivered a hat trick and an assist in a 4-2 win that evened the series and forced a Game 7 … and you know the rest.
A few things I like to recall about that game. First, Messier never said “I guarantee” or anything like that. He said “We will win the game.”
Second, he did not say, as the famous Post headline blared, “We will win tonight” because he said it the day before the game. He would have had to say “We will win tomorrow.” But he didn’t.
Third, when he said it, it didn’t sound at all like it sounds in retrospect. A few of the writers actually looked at each other in the crowd around Messier’s locker at Rye Playland rink and asked, “Did he just say that?” It was so benign the way he said it that none of the local TV stations even used the supposed “guarantee” that night. It wasn’t a big deal until the newspapers came out the next day.
Fourth, the Rangers sure weren’t inspired at the start of Game 6. Indeed, they were awful. And when Mike Keenan called a timeout and just stared at them and let them know he was angry — he had already had a meltdown, benching players in the previous game — the Rangers got even worse when play resumed. A lot of the credit for the turnaround goes to Keenan putting Alexei Kovalev on Messier’s wing, and deservedly so. But the guys who really made it all happen were Mike Richter, who held off the Devils’ bombardment, and Brian Leetch, who was unbelievably good in that game.
Fifth, this may not have been the best game of Messier’s career. His most memorable game to that point, which may have been better, was Game 4 in Chicago Stadium in 1990, when he was as mean and nasty as anybody has ever been, and offensively dominant with his speed and skill, in a must-win game during the Oilers’ Stanley Cup run post-Gretzky. Keenan, who was the Blackhawks coach at the time, told me later that he knew his team was finished after seeing the look in Messier’s eyes as he sat in the arena during the morning skate.
Non-hockey-related, I wrote a Memorial Day column for The Journal News and LoHud.com about a local high school coach who inspired after losing her fiance in a mortar attack in Iraq. You can see it here.