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Gretzky makes case for more Oiler numbers to join his and Messier's

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Gretzky makes case for more Oiler numbers to join his and Messier's

The Canadian Press
By:

On the eve of the ceremony to retire Mark Messier's No. 11 jersey, the Great One expressed his desire to see more of the Oilers dynasty honoured in the future. He'd start with Glen Sather, the team's former GM and coach.

"I don't know what you raise (for Sather), maybe you raise one of his suits or something," Gretzky said to laughs Monday prior to the Coyotes game against the Flames. "He was the architect and he was the guy that built the team.

"He had a vision of how he wanted the game played - a puck-moving, fast game. That was a formula he used to build a dynasty."

Gretzky and his Coyotes will be in attendance Tuesday for the Messier ceremonies along with Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Al Hamilton, the other Oilers to have already had their jerseys retired.

Gretzky's Oiler wish list also includes Kevin Lowe and Glenn Anderson being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and having their numbers retired by Edmonton.

While calling those players the "epitome" of what it means to be an Oiler, Gretzky made it very clear that the five Stanley Cup banners hanging at Rexall Place are the result of a team rather than individuals.

They remain a team to this day.

"It was just a really cohesive group," said Gretzky. "There was (nobody) that thought they were bigger than the team. Every guy in there believed that each and every person was important to the success of the team.

"We all made each other better players."

Perhaps no one did it better than Messier.

A feisty, emotional player, he spent the first 12 years of his Hall of Fame career playing in the city he was raised in. Messier helped lead the team to all five of its Stanley Cups, including the surprising win in 1990 after Gretzky had been dealt to Los Angeles.

But it was the chemistry between No. 99 and No. 11 that really made the Oilers click. Gretzky credits Messier for much of the personal success he had.

"We both had a lot of pride and pushed each other in practice, pushed each other in games," said Gretzky. "If I wasn't playing well, he'd tell me I had to play better. If he wasn't playing well I'd tell Jari (Kurri) to tell him."

Despite the laughter the comment received, Gretzky was serious.

Messier's passion for the game and his desire to have every player in the dressing room be accountable sometimes led to some heated moments in the early stages of his career.

"He was a little bit of a loose cannon," said Gretzky.

But Messier transformed his style as he got older and moved on. After helping the New York Rangers win the 1994 Stanley Cup he solidified himself as a saint in that city.

Gretzky marvelled at the way Messier was able to evolve. He transformed himself from a pitbull power forward into one of the league's better playmakers. Gretzky reckons Messier was every bit as good at setting up teammates as Adam Oates and Dale Hawerchuk were in their prime.

"Mess developed himself into that type of player, just through hard work and a love for the game," he said.

With 694 goals, six Stanley Cup rings and two Hart Trophies to his credit, Messier has seen a lot. But Gretzky expects his friend and former teammate to show his emotions Tuesday, as he did last season when he was honoured by the Rangers.

Messier was the kind of guy who was always adored by teammates.

"He's probably already crying now - he just got off the plane," said Gretzky. "Let's face it, he wears his heart on his sleeve. He's just a good person."

Gretzky and the Coyotes were in Edmonton last year when Coffey's No. 7 was raised to the rafters. He'll never get tired of watching his former teammates get feted by the Oilers organization.

Especially Messier.

"He's well deserving of everything he's going to get," said Gretzky. "He's just a wonderful man."

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Gretzky makes case for more Oiler numbers to join his and Messier's