It is important not to laugh at this moment, because Mark Messier has the Look on his face. It says, "I want to tear something or someone limb from limb," and at 6'1", 205 pounds, the Edmonton Oilers center is built to back up his gaze. Messier has just left a birdie putt short, the third time he has done so through 11 holes at the Edmonton Country Club. "Boldly struck, Alice," says Paul Messier, safe in the knowledge that even in a rage Mark is not going to dismember his older brother. A spectator enjoys no such exemption, and, so, keeps a straight face.
Perry Berezan can tell you about the Look. Berezan is the Calgary Flames forward whom Messier put out of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a monster check in Game 3 of the Oilers' four-game sweep. Messier has the same look in his eyes now as he did then—and he's carrying a club. His patented glower could make a freight train take a dirt road. The Look has wilted referees and made sensible NHL players long for the end of their shift.
But Messier enjoys life too much to stay mad for long. Before reaching the next tee, he has forgotten the missed birdie. As Paul addresses the ball, Mark says, "Your right foot is way too far forward." His concentration ruined, Paul slices his drive into the woods.
It isn't enough for Messier, 27, to be one of the NHL's five best players and to be the leading scorer in the playoffs (at the end of the second round he had 20 points in nine games) for a team that is a strong favorite to win its fourth Stanley Cup in five years. Winning—on the ice or on the links—is all-important to Messier. At an Oilers practice last week, Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton's other center, surprised backup goaltender Daryl Reaugh with a blur of a shot from the blue line, and then let out an ecstatic whoop. Moments later, during the same drill. Messier found forward Glenn Anderson with a slick pass that Anderson failed to handle. "C'mon, Andy!" barked Messier, all business.
Listen to Gretzky skate: flick, flick, flick. He plays above the ice. Now listen to Messier: scrape, scrape, scrape. He assaults the ice. In a 1987 documentary about the Oilers, The Boys On The Bus, Messier and Gretzky discussed why they play hockey. Gretzky plays for the fun of it; Messier plays to challenge himself.
"What you see with Mark is what you get," says Gretzky. "He shoots straight from the hip. And he loves life." When Messier goes water-skiing with friends, he wants to get his shoulder closer to the water than anyone else. He wants to be the best-dressed, have the darkest tan, have the best time—or die trying.
This season Messier has established himself as one of the top playmakers in the league. He finished the regular season with 37 goals and a career-high 74 assists, but the statistic he's most concerned about is still in question. "The measure of Mark's game is not in goals and assists," says Gretzky. "The statistic he cares about is Number of Stanley Cups Won."
As Detroit—having ousted St. Louis in five games—looked ahead to its Campbell Conference championship series against Edmonton, Red Wings coach Jacques Demers raved about the Oilers' superior skill and described Messier as "a bulldozer who'll go through you as soon as go around you." Said Edmonton's All-Star defenseman Kevin Lowe, "You have to go back to Gordie Howe to find someone who can dominate every aspect of a game—puckhandling, checking, skating—the way Mark can, although I'm not sure Howe was as fast as Mark."
Last year, incidentally, Lowe and Messier went barhopping with the Stanley Cup, hockey's most venerable symbol, dropping in on such unvenerable establishments as the Bruin Inn in St. Albert, Alberta, where Messier's parents live. "What good is winning the thing," says Messier, "if you can't enjoy it?"
Messier asks the question as he redlines his Porsche down Edmonton's 104th Avenue on his way home from practice. Messier knows where Edmonton's finest have set up speed traps, and what a stroke of luck that is, because his personal speed limit is often unrelated to the posted limit. "I've been told to be patient, to put a little away for the future," says Messier. "But who wants to sit and look at your money and wish you had a ski boat, a nice car, a nice summer cottage? Why not have those things now?"