"We lost a game in Los Angeles," Richter says. "Mess called a meeting. It wasn't a real bad game—we outshot them, their goalie made the saves—but still we weren't as good as we should be. Mess was very emotional. I don't want to say things I shouldn't be saying, but there were tears in his eyes. He was saying, I will not take losing as a habit. I will not stand for it.' He wasn't blaming anyone else. He said none of us should blame anyone else, that you never have to look further than yourself when you lose."
Along with the meetings, there suddenly were parties. Events. Who is going? Everyone is going. Together. After a win in St. Louis on Nov. 23, Messier directed the bus driver simply to pull over to a bar. Everyone got off the bus. There were no quibbles about important phone calls that had to be made from the hotel room, about bigger obligations or commitments. What could be a bigger obligation? Everybody went. In L.A., with the team in town for a protracted stretch, there were golf outings at a country club to which Messier belongs. His treat. Don't play golf? Come out and just look at the sunset. Greatest sunset in the world! There was a team trip to Paramount movie studios. For Christmas? A party. In Chicago, stroke of midnight, New Year's Eve, there was a toast. The entire team was together. Of course.
"I've never really seen anyone like him," Ranger coach Roger Neilson says. "The players gave all the coaches luggage for Christmas. He organized it. Nice luggage too."
He became the roommate, on the road, of up-and-down defenseman Brian Leetch. Better to preach the values of consistency. He became the linemate, almost immediately, of Graves and Amonte. Amonte, a rookie, says he can hear Messier talking to him on the ice. All the time. Little instructions. Little encouragements. He finds himself doing things he did not know he could do.
"He makes you play at a higher level," Amonte says. "He pushes me to give more than I ever could."
Around the Rangers, the stories continue. Who hasn't heard the words? Who hasn't been touched? The results in the standings have been obvious. The results in the minds, in the eye-contact locker room, have been almost as obvious.
"I've never met anyone so positive," Richter says. "Here is a guy who just lives every day as fully as he can. If you're sitting with him at dinner, everything will be the best. He will enjoy everything. He'll say, 'Isn't this wine unreal?' He is that way about everything he does."
"I think I could go away for about a month and a half, come back, and everything would be the same," Neilson says. "That's how he has this team working."
"I look at it now," Messier says, "and I think that if I sat down and wrote everything I wanted to happen, I couldn't have done a better job. It's a script. It's all been exactly what I wanted."
The rest of the Rangers, except Leetch, live in suburban Westchester to be closer to the amusement-park rink. Messier lives in a rented Manhattan condo. Mary-Kay, 29, and his brother, Paul, 34, also live in the condo. A frequent visitor is his four-year-old son, Lyon, who lives with his mother in Washington. Everything seems to work. His other sister, Jennifer, 32, lives in Boston and visits. His parents, Doug and Mary-Jean, live in the Hilton Head house. Doug and Mary-Jean also visit. Doug is his agent, representing him in contract negotiations. Paul and Mary-Kay handle endorsements and appearances.