It can be tough for a professional athlete to walk away from a sport they love. NHL legend Mark Messier made the difficult decision to step away from the world of hockey and announced his retirement on this date in 2004.
Messier entered the NHL after being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1979 NHL Draft. Messier was not initially known as a prolific scorer but provided leadership and brought a competitive nature to the Oilers. After starting out as a left-winger, Messier made the switch to center prior to the 1984 NHL playoffs.
Messier would help lead the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the hockey playoffs.
He would continue to find success with the Oilers, winning four Stanley Cups from 1985 - 1990. Messier added a Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP Award) in 1990, beating Boston Bruins' star Ray Bourque by just two votes.
In 1991, Messier was traded to the New York Rangers for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls and Steven Rice. Messier added another Hart Trophy and helped lead the Rangers to the best record in the NHL in his first season. However, the team was defeated in the second round of the NHL playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
His second season saw Messier not play in the NHL playoffs for the first time in his career. The Rangers would make a coaching change following the season.
The next season saw the Rangers again finish the NHL season with the best record in hockey. The Rangers would eliminate the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals in the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Messier's legendary status rose to new heights as he scored a hat trick to erase a two-goal deficit as the Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils. The goals were monumental to cementing Messier's legacy in part because the Rangers star had guaranteed a Game 6 victory prior to the game.
In the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, Messier scored the decisive goal in Game 7 as the New York Rangers celebrated their first Stanley Cup in 54 years inside the world's most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The win produced the iconic images of Messier being overcome with emotion as he lifted the Stanley Cup above his head in the post-game celebration. He became the only player to be a captain on two separate Stanley Cup champion franchises.
Messier spent three more years as the Rangers captain but left the team due to General Manager Neil Smith opting not to keep Messier on the team. He would sign with the Vancouver Canucks in 1997 and spent a turbulent three years as a member of the hockey team.
He returned to the Rangers in 2000 and showed that he could still be a valuable contributor to the team despite his age. Messier played for another four seasons with the Rangers before deciding to retire in 2005. He made the decision to retire on ESPN radio.
"It's a bittersweet day for the National Hockey League," said Wayne Gretzky, Messier's former teammate with the Oilers and Rangers. "Mark has done so much for the game of hockey and taught so many of our young players. He was an exceptional leader who was unselfish, hard-working and dedicated. He truly loved the game. He was the best player I ever played with and it was a pleasure to play with him each and every day." (via ESPN.com)
He currently ranks second in games played behind only "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe, third in points behind Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr and second in all-time playoff points. Messier was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.