Rangers' Cup runneth over with expectations for Messier

October 13, 1991|By Viv Bernstein | Viv Bernstein,The Hartford Courant

RYE, N.Y. -- October has arrived, time for Rangers fans to

dream about winning the Stanley Cup. Leaves fall, hopes rise. It happens every year.

Time passes. A world war, a cold war, a war in the Persian Gulf. Nuclear energy, solar energy, trips to the moon. And still the Rangers haven't won the Cup.

It has been 51 years.

But the only number on the minds of fans these days is 11, the jersey worn by Mark Messier. He wore that number in Edmonton for 12 seasons and won five Stanley Cups.

Now he's wearing it in New York and the Oct. 4 trade that brought Messier to the Rangers for Bernie Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice has given fans more hope than they've had in years. Decades, maybe.

That's why they gave Messier a long, loud ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden last Monday night.

"Obviously, there's a lot of things going through your mind," said Messier. "I spent my whole life in Edmonton, the last 30 years. . . . To get an ovation like that and to be accepted like that is great."

But the ovation was not for what he did in Edmonton, it's for what fans think he will do in New York. It's a lot of pressure to place on one player. The Yankees' Reggie Jackson thrived on it, Dave Winfield wilted under it.

Messier has been through this before, but in Edmonton the pressure was to maintain, not to attain.

"That kind of pressure -- I don't think a little fear of losing is a bad thing, as long as it doesn't overwhelm you," he said. "It shouldn't overwhelm you. It can push you and it can make you think you're better."

That is Messier's job: to make his teammates believe. It's why the Rangers gave him the captaincy days after his arrival. He is called a natural leader, someone who commands respect just by his presence.

"He's a guy who can get 'em going," Coach Roger Neilson said. "He takes over in the dressing room."

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