National Post (Latest Edition)

Messier hoping to ‘elevate the game’ in new TV role

Oilers legend lands prominent studio gig

- S Simmons teve in Toronto Postmedia News ssimmons@postmedia.com Twitter.com/simmonsste­ve

The wooing of Mark Messier, after all these years, began with a phone call, then another call, moved to a restaurant, then another meal, and ended up in a board room with a signature and a brand new profile.

Give or take a minute, it’s been 17 years since Messier played in the National Hockey League, 27 years since he won his sixth Stanley Cup — can you imagine that? — and now here he is, just days away from being a prime-time player again — this time on television, this time on the largest network in all of sports.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen in other sports. In football, Tony Romo goes from playing quarterbac­k to the best colour analyst in one year. In baseball, Big Papi, David Ortiz goes from playing for the Boston Red Sox to talking on television. Everything is current.

The new hockey season begins in the United States with two new networks and so much promise and the largest stars of a generation-long gone will now be asked to introduce hockey to Americans on networks that have mostly ignored the game in the past. The boys of winters gone by — Messier on ESPN and Wayne Gretzky on TNT — are the old stars and the new apparent stars of hockey nights in America.

They were the greatest 1-2 centre combinatio­n in hockey history, so different, so special, so gifted, so intense, starting out as kids in Edmonton on the most talented team of the past 40 years. But that was a long time ago. Gretzky won his last Stanley Cup in 1988 with the Oilers. Messier went on to win one more in Edmonton, and the giant celebrated victory in New York in 1994, which he will be known for forever.

Now the two 60-year-olds, born eight days apart in January of 1961, are the old stars of a new venture. Two giants learning on the job late in life.

“My hope is that hockey is the winner,” said the very busy Messier in a lengthy interview. “I think Wayne has such amazing perspectiv­e and individual perspectiv­e about the game and I think I share that with him. My hope is we can elevate the game, get more people interested, get more boys and girls wanting to play, be educationa­l and entertaini­ng and, for the most part, elevate the game.

“I’m a big fan of Wayne’s as you know from the time we’re 18 years olds playing together. “

And now a new beginning for both on a stage neither has really known before.

When ESPN began talking to Messier, they wanted to know what he knew about today’s NHL. They were blown away by his team by team knowledge. They asked questions and more questions and he kept coming up with the right answers.

“What have I been doing the past 20 years? Watching hockey every night during the season,” said Messier. “That’s what I do. So now, I’ll be watching it from a studio and talking about it with my friends. I may have things to learn about (television). I don’t have to learn about hockey or the NHL. That comes naturally.

“The good thing for me is, normally I’ve been watching from home. Bristol, Connecticu­t, where ESPN is, about an hour’s drive from my house. The location is perfect. Everything just seems to be feeling comfortabl­e about this.”

Messier makes his debut Tuesday night, sitting on a panel alongside Monday Night Football’s Steve Levy and another veteran NHLER, Chris Chelios. If Messier and Chelios are as opinionate­d and fresh as they are in person, they should thrive on television.

“It’s not like I’ve been out of hockey,” said Messier. “I have my award, so I follow the league closely every year. I’m interested to see (Alex) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby as veterans just as I’m interested in the beginning of (Connor) Mcdavid, (Auston) Matthews and (Nathan) Mackinnon. There are a lot of stars in the NHL right now. Lots to talk about.

“I told the people at ESPN, if I do this, I want to be good at it. I have no ego in this. I want to be coached and helped and educated in it. I have a lot of respect for the people I’m working with and working for. I’m excited to get going.”

Don’t expect him to be Charles Barkley, whom he greatly admires as a television personalit­y. As a kid, when he was a Boston Celtics fan and his brother was an L.A. Lakers fan in Alberta, he used to walk around the house imitating Mike Fratello, the coach turned broadcaste­r. “I was mesmerized by him,” said Messier. “I didn’t know that much about basketball but I was learning the game and he was teaching it to me.”

Now it’s his turn to be the teacher. A broadcasti­ng rookie nearing his senior years. Hockey has been his life and that passion has never left him.

“I’m going to give it my best shot,” said Messier, third alltime in NHL scoring, third alltime in point scored. “That’s all I’ve ever done. That’s all I know.”

 ?? JUDY EDDY / WENN.COM FILES ?? Mark Messier will begin work as a studio analyst
for ESPN’S coverage of the NHL this season.
JUDY EDDY / WENN.COM FILES Mark Messier will begin work as a studio analyst for ESPN’S coverage of the NHL this season.

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