5 Minutes with Hockey Legend Mark Messier

April 24, 2014 – A few weeks ago, I interviewed hockey legend Mark Messier for a “5 Minutes with…” Q&A feature that will be published in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.

I met up with the NHL’s eighth-ranked goal scorer at the old Kingsbridge Armory, which is in the process of being transformed into the largest ice facility in the world. Only a few miles from Yankee Stadium, there is a building that will soon hold nine full-sized ice rinks. While the project is far from complete, Messier, who is the chief executive officer and an investor in the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, predicts that the project will be complete by 2017.

After taking a tour of the cavernous 750,000 abandoned landmark with Messier, the Hockey Hall of Famer spoke with me about his dream for the facility.

“I have a shared vision to do something here in the armory that will be inclusive of everyone in the community,” Messier said. “I understand that we’re not going to get every child in the Bronx to play ice sports, but it’s a healthy alternative. We look at this armory as the vehicle to create economic growth. It will create jobs in the Bronx and bring in new businesses. That will help everyone.

“I want to walk through the front door and see six or seven different ice disciplines on the ice all at the same time,” the former New York Rangers captain said from a rooftop that overlooks Manhattan. “There will also be a health and wellness center and a community center, which will have several after-school programs. We are also planning to have internship and mentorship programs available every day.”

After our conversation about the ice facility, I asked Messier about the guarantee he made 20 years ago, when he told the world that his Rangers would defeat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

“The basic inspiration behind [the guarantee] was to find a way to make sure that my teammates knew that I believed in them,” Messier said. “We had lost momentum in that series, and I wanted my teammates to know that I thought we could win that game and win the series. I knew we could win the game, and I was just doing anything I could to instill the confidence and the belief that we could do it.”

Behind Messier’s hat trick, the Rangers won that game. A few weeks later, the team captured its first Stanley Cup in 54 years. From that epic championship run, Messier became a New York legend, and I asked him what it’s like to be one of the very few people who will never have to buy a drink in the Big Apple.

“It means a lot,” Messier said. “I came here when I was 30 years old, and although I was excited about what was ahead of me, I never expected to be embraced the way I was. I was lucky to be part of a great team on and off the ice, and that is a big reason why I am still well respected in New York. We were approachable and honest, and we played hard. Everyone on that team was entrenched in the community. When the team embraces the community, the community embraces the team, and there’s an energy that forms. That’s what happened to us in 1994, and for me, that energy has never gone away.”

To read the rest of this compelling interview, check out the May Issue of Yankees Magazine, which will be available on May 2.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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