Messier: Rangers captain Callahan ‘a winner’

NHL Hall of Famer Mark Messier joins Hockey Central at Noon to talk about the importance of minor hockey and the growth of the game.

The Moose doesn’t enter a room quietly.

When Mark Messier dropped by the old Maple Leafs Gardens Tuesday night for a guest-speaking engagement, he strode into the building with his old pal, Stanley, raised high above his head.

A six-ringed NHL champion and the only man to captain two separate franchises to the promised land, Messier jokes that the Cup feels a little heavier these days. The adrenalin might not flow as it did in the ’80s and ’90s, but Messier’s hockey mind is still sharp.

Living in New York, where he’s helping bring the world’s largest indoor ice centre to the Bronx, Messier also devotes time to growing minor hockey in Canada and serving as a special advisor to the Edmonton Oilers.

We stole five minutes of Messier’s time to pick his brain about Team Canada, Ryan Callahan and the NHL’s upcoming trade deadline. Which country poses the biggest threat to Canada’s attempt to replicate Olympic gold?

Messier: You pick a team. The teams that actually have a chance of winning the [gold] compared to 10 years ago, 15 years ago is incredible. There used to be two, three, four teams that had a chance of winning. Now there’s probably eight or more. It took all we could do in 2010 to win the gold medal, and it took overtime to do that. Going over to Russia presents another challenge with the bigger ice surface. Going into foreign territory, it’ll be a big challenge for them to repeat. Can they repeat? Of course, they can. It comes down to execution and getting the odd break here and there and being able to galvanize a team at the right time.

In your era, the common belief was that North Americans played a different style of hockey than Europeans. With so many European Olympians coming from the NHL, how much has that changed? Have they met in the middle?

You said it. I think they’ve met in the middle. One advantage Europeans have is they grew up on the bigger ice surfaces. It’s a different game. That’ll be a challenge for Canada, but there is a blend of hockey that’s similar now. There might be different coaching styles and coaching systems, but overall you don’t see a big difference in the countries’ style of play.

From one Rangers captain to another, what’s your take on Ryan Callahan?

He’s done an amazing job in New York over the last few years. He leads by example. He brings it to the rink each and every night, and he plays a big game for not an overly big fella [5’11”, 190 pounds]. He’s been the real leader and inspiration for that team and someone the rest of the guys can follow. He’s a winner. His consistency has been admirable, the way he approaches the game on and off the ice. He’s a great kid.

What will it mean if the Rangers trade him or lose him to free agency?

It’s a different landscape now. There’s a lot of metrics that go into those kinds of decisions that weren’t necessarily in play before the salary cap. That kind of business needs to be decided by those doing the contracts and looking into the future. It will work itself out one way or another. That’s where the way the game has gone over the last few years.

How would you compare the trade deadline now as opposed to when you were a player?

It was kind of new for a long time. Then there were shows created around the deadline and it became this big hysteria – the need to the get the information. It’s still big, it’s still interesting, but now everyone has gotten used to it. It’s a great way for the fans to be involved and a good way to promote the game. It’s exciting for a lot of people; for some people being traded, it’s probably not such a good day. In the end, it’s about fan interest. The fans propel the game. They are the energy for our sport. So if it’s a way to promote the game to the fans, then it’s great.

Is there a particular trade deadline that sticks out in your mind because you were concerned about losing a teammate or heard rumblings about yourself?

Every one is the same. It’s a tough time seeing players get traded. Every year someone gets moved or traded, and it’s disappointing. That’s the sport. We all know it, and we all play by the same rules and learn to live with it.

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