Saturday, November 17, 2007

"We know we are going to win..."

In recent years Billy Goats, Bambinos, and Black Socks have been getting the bulk of attention for sporting curses, but a little over a decade ago, there was another sporting curse at the front of everyone's mind. This curse was so devious, so malicious, it did not even get a catchy name like all of the others, it was simply known as the Curse of 1940.

It all starting, surprisingly enough, in 1940 when the New York Rangers won their third Stanley Cup. Also in that year, the mortgage on Madison Square Garden was due to be paid off. So in celebration of both the championship victory and the financial freedom, the management of Madison Square Garden decided to burn the mortgage paper inside the Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup has long been considered to be the most sacred Sports Trophies in the world, as such one can not do anything to defile it without consequence.

In the coming decades the Rangers would be a mark of futility in the NHL, consistently missing the playoffs, and in the rare cases they made it, they would rarely see much success. Making the finals only 3 times in over fifty years.

That would all change thanks to one man.

Mark Messier began his professional hockey career in the WHA playing for the Indianapolis Racers and the Cincinnati Stingers before being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, now in the NHL, in 1979. Messier would play an integral part of the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy when they earned their first Stanley Cup in 1984.

While Messier enjoyed a great deal of success in the 1980s playing alongside Wayne Gretzky, it was not until The Great One was traded in 1989 that Messier's status grew. After Wayne's departure, few gave the Oilers any chance, but Messier, the new Captain, was able to lead the Edmonton Oilers to their 5th Stanley Cup in 7 years in 1990 to the shock of the hockey world. Messier would also be award the Hart Trophy, as league MVP that very season.

After one more season in Edmonton, Messier was traded to the New York Rangers, were he would become a true hockey legend.

Already a respectable team, the Rangers grew drastically with the edition of Messier. He was immediately named Captain of the Rangers and guided the Rangers to the best record in the NHL, winning the Hart Trophy along the way. While the rival Penguins won the cup that season, the Rangers still had very high hopes heading into the 92-93 season.

But the Hockey gods frowned on the promising Rangers. Superstar defenceman Brian Leetch slipped on a piece of ice, injuring his ankle. Yes, you read that right, a hockey player got an injury slipping on the ice. Surely the Rangers MUST be doomed. As a result of this injury, and other mitigating factors, the Rangers finished last in their division and missed the playoffs. The hockey gods appeared to mock the Rangers, as their Original Six counterparts, the Montreal Canadiens, win an improbable Stanley Cup.

The Rangers would rebound very quickly the following year, earning themselves the best record in the National Hockey League once more. Along the way, the added a series of former Edmonton Oilers to join Mark Messier including Adam Graves, Craig MacTavish and Glenn Anderson. In the playoffs they made short work of the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals in the first two rounds before moving on to their cross-town rivals, the New Jersey Devils.

The upstart Devils outplayed the Rangers in the first five games, going up 3-2 with crucial Game Six taking place in New Jersey. The Rangers, a team that just could not lose looked to be in trouble. Before the game, Messier's most famous moment came when he famously decreed "We know we are going to win Game Six and bring it back to the Garden."

Declaring imminent victory usually translates into impending loss in the world of sports, especially with 54 years of curses behind you. But even the hockey gods couldn't stop Messier's iron will, as the Moose went on to score a hat-trick in the third period and added an assist, leading the Rangers to a 4-2 win. The Rangers went on to win Game 7 in New York in double overtime, and they were on their way to a Finals berth with the Vancouver Canucks.

The finals truly was one for the ages, as it went a full seven games. Going into the deciding game the Canucks had the momentum, having won the previous two encounters. However in a thrilling winner-take-all game the Rangers won, with Messier scoring the winning goal. The image of Messier shaking with joy as Gary Bettman hands him the Cup has been immortalized in every NHL playoff highlight real. Lost in all of the excitment and curse breaking is the fact that Mark Messier became the first, and only player to captain two different teams to a championship in the history of North American pro-sports.

A few years later, Messier would sign as a free agent with, ironically, the Vancouver Canucks. However, Messier and the Canucks did not experience a great deal of success during this time, and when his contract expired in 2000 he returned to New York to finish his career. During the press conference to announce his signing, Messier boldly guaranteed that the Rangers would make the playoffs that year. He may have been testing the hockey gods, who he had angered six years previously, as this guarantee would not come true. The people of New York did not seem to care though, as Messier could clearly do no wrong in their eyes.

Mark Messier finished his career after the NHL Lockout as the second all-time leading scorer in both regular season and playoff points, trailing only his former teammate, Wayne Gretzky. As incredible as that is though, for all of his 1887 career regular season points, people will always remember the 4 that he scored that fateful night in New Jersey. When Messier did something so rare and amazing. He kept a promise.

Until next time,


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