Messier makes his mark at the NHL’s skills competition
BOSTON (AP) _ Mark Messier swept the ice with a broom, then swept away the opposition in the NHL All-Stars skills competition.
Playing the role of part-time janitor and full-time hero, the New York Rangers captain won the shooting accuracy title in Friday night’s skills event, kicking off the NHL’s All-Star weekend.
``It was a good show for the NHL,″ said Messier, who grabbed a broom during a break to help clean up the ice near one of the nets. ``The players are getting more competitive in this event.″
Messier hopes to keep it going tonight when his Eastern team meets the West in the 46th NHL All-Star Game at the FleetCenter.
He won’t ``guarantee″ a victory, though, as he did in the Stanley Cup playoffs two years ago and led the Rangers over the New Jersey Devils.
``No, I don’t think I can do that,″ Messier said with a smile, adding that one ``guarantee″ in a career was enough.
He did guarantee the fans at the FleetCenter a good time Friday night, though, with his inspirational play.
The seemingly ageless Messier, in the middle of one of his greatest seasons, had a goal in a penalty shootout after the Eastern and Western conferences were tied following six events: Puck Control Relay, Fastest Skater, Speed Blast (hardest shot), Rapid-Fire Relay, Shooting Accuracy and Breakaway Relay.
Messier beat Chicago’s Ed Belfour to temporarily tie the shootout, which was eventually won by the West when Boston’s Ray Bourque failed to get another shot past Belfour.
``It would have been a great night for all of us if Ray had scored, especially in this building,″ Philadelphia’s Eric Lindros said of the popular Boston Bruins defenseman.
It was a bad night all around for Bourque, who also lost his accuracy title to Messier when he needed seven shots to hit the four targets. Bourque went 4-for-4 in a previous All-Star skills competition.
``I knew that Bourque goes 4-for-4, so if I had a chance to win it, I knew I had to get the first one, anyway,″ Messier said. ``I concentrated on getting the two low ones; then I tried to hit the ones up top.
``Once you get that first one, it kind of settles you down a little bit. Then you can relax.″
Overall, it was a good night for oldtimers _ first the Heroes of Hockey oldtimers game, then the 35-year-old Messier and 36-year-old Mike Gartner showed the younger players how to do it in the skills competition.
Gartner won the fastest skating title for the third time in the six years it has been featured. Gartner only needed 13.386 seconds for one trip around the perimeter of the FleetCenter ice.
``I don’t think I put a lot of weight in the age, really,″ said the Toronto Maple Leafs forward, whose time set a skills competition record. ``It is how you feel. I mean, there are probably guys out there that are 25 that may feel 45 and guys who are 45 that may feel 25, so I don’t think age, as a number, really has a lot to do with it.″
Gartner’s time beat Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov, who was clocked in 13.51. Fedorov won the event two of the three previous years.
Winnipeg’s Dave Manson had the hardest shot at 98 mph, replacing Al Iafrate as the champion in that category. Iafrate won the previous two _ including the record 105.2 mph in 1993.
Players seemed to have fun during the competitions, but at the same time were deadly serious about winning.
``Every athlete wants to win,″ the New York Rangers’ Pat Verbeek said. ``It’s no different in the (skills) competition. The boy comes out in the man.″
Although Belfour was a hero for the Western Conference when he stopped Bourque at the end, he found playing goaltender in these competitions is no piece of cake.
``The problem with being a goalie in skills competition is that you don’t get much warmup time. You just try to do the best you can.′
The competition followed an oldtimers game, which resulted in a 5-5 tie between an all-star team and a group of former players with the Boston Bruins.
The events Friday night capped a busy day for the NHL. Earlier, the Board of Governors officially approved the sales of franchises in Winnipeg and Dallas.