Messier joined the team for the second game of the season, in Montreal, assisting on rookie Doug Weight's goal to tie the game in the third period on the way to a 2-1 overtime victory, the team's first win in Montreal since 1983. He was announced as captain at the first home game, on Oct. 7, in dramatic fashion. As part of the 75th anniversary of the NHL, the Rangers had invited many of their former captains to return for pre-game festivities. The captains were lined up at center ice after being introduced when the public-address announcer said, "And the Rangers' newest captain...." Messier skated down the line, shaking each captain's hand to loud applause. The final hand belonged to Murray Murdoch, 88, the oldest living Ranger. Past met future, and they were the same. Murdoch is Messier's great-uncle.
"It's kind of eerie, isn't it?" Messier's sister Mary-Kay says. "Murray is a man we have known all of our lives. Uncle Murray. There always have been family stories about him playing with the Rangers. Now, to have Mark here...it's like it was meant to be."
The first change in the locker room concerned the Gatorade containers. They sat where they always had, on top of a table that formed a small island in the middle of the room. Everyone was equidistant from a cool drink. Seemed like a good idea in human engineering. Not to Messier.
"Could you put them off to the side somewhere?" he asked a trainer.
"I want to be able to have eye contact with my teammates."
Such a little thing. Such a big thing. He says he didn't have any plan upon his arrival in New York except that he would act natural and try to learn as much as possible about everyone else as soon as possible. He didn't want to walk into a room of strangers and begin hitting them over the head with any phrases that started off with the words "When we were in Edmonton, we did...." No, he wanted to act natural. New team. New start. He would gain his forum by playing as hard as he could, then speak when he thought he had to speak. He would not keep quiet.
"I think he was very careful about everything associated with Edmonton," his sister says. "When he moved, he left all his trophies, all his awards, back in Edmonton. I kept asking him when he wanted me to ship them. He kept cutting me off. I couldn't figure it out. Why wouldn't he want this stuff? It's all in the basement of the house in Edmonton. Then it hit me. He was making a break. Nothing else counted. He wanted to concentrate on being a Ranger."
The meetings came next. Every team in every sport has meetings, but these were different types of meetings. Messier would ask the coaches and press and trainers to leave. The door would be locked. He would talk in a forceful, personal way. The room would go very quiet, and he would name names and cite situations and open the floor for any sort of discussion about anything.
There had been rumors about him before he came, that he could be a physical threat, that he intimidated some teammates with force. If you 're not playing well, he will push you against a wall and get right in your face. He was not like that. Everything was discussed in a positive way. What do we need? This is what we need from you. And you. And you.