(CBS) – Twenty seven years ago the New York Rangers ended a 54-year drought when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks and finally hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1940. “The Captain” Mark Messier shares inside information about that spectacular season as well as tales from his life in the new book No One Wins Alone.READ MORE: New York City Announces First-In-The-Nation Vaccine Mandate For Private Companies
CBS’ Matt Weiss spoke to Messier to discuss that amazing ’94 season as well as the current state of the Blueshirts.
MW- Hello Mark, pleasure to speak with you today!
MM- Good to see you too, Matt.
MW- So I want to jump right back in time to 1994 when you came from Edmonton to join the Rangers. I know you’d been in New York as a visitor before but what were your first impressions of being in New York as Ranger?
MM- Absolutely exhilarating. I loved the opportunity to play for an original six team. When it was time to leave Edmonton Glen Sather asked me where I’d like to go and I thought about it for about 10 seconds and told him I’d love to go play for the New York Rangers. They were an original six team that hadn’t won in 54 years and being a part of New York City was just a dream come true.
MW- In the prologue of No One Wins Alone you have a blurb I loved about your initiation to New York. You talk about yourself and Brian Leetch in a cab and it started to downpour. Traffic backed up and you had to run 20 blocks to the Garden in the rain. How was adjusting to life in the city for you?
MM- The thing that struck me the most coming from a small town in Edmonton is that New York despite its massive size is really like a small town. For me it was just an amazing experience to to go live in the city and to learn how to live in the city. The city itself is a living, breathing organism where everybody’s working together in order to make it all happen on a tiny little island.
When I think back on all those little nuances about living in the city all while playing professional sports it was just perfect timing for me. I had just turned 30 or 31-years-old and not only was I getting a different perspective from playing for a different organization but it was a totally different life experience.
MW- Everyone talks about the aura that Madison Square Garden has as the world’s most famous arena. Did you feel that the first time you were in the home team’s locker room?
MM- Well I did feel it and it is special. When you think about it’s all entertainment, that’s what the whole city does is entertainment. Professional sports in New York City is another form of entertainment and Madison Square Garden was the biggest stage in the city.
We got to do live performances there 40 to 41 times a year along with basketball and musicians and everything else that goes on there. I felt it was an honor to be able to share that stage with all my teammates. In hindsight looking back all the amazing people that had “made it” in New York from all forms of entertainment came through Madison Square Garden. To be able to win a championship in New York City, on the biggest stage in the city, the greatest city in the world, that was was just amazing.
MW- So now I want to get into that incredible ’94 season and we’ll start in the Eastern Conference Finals. In New York there have been a few very famous guarantees. Babe Ruth called his shot, Joe Namath guaranteed a win in Super Bowl III and then you guaranteed a victory in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals. What made you so confident you were going to win that game?
MM- Well we had a lot of success against New Jersey all season long and if anybody remembers we actually beat them all six games that we played in the regular season. We had shown that we could beat New Jersey. Obviously their defense is legendary now but they were just kind of starting to really mold into their careers. Brodeur was really coming into the zone and they had a big strong team plus they were really well coached with Larry Robinson; more importantly they believed they could win.
Belief is a huge thing in professional sports, it’s a first step in actually making that happen. Things happen in playoff hockey where momentum shifts and we found ourselves on the wrong side of that momentum in the series. We had to figure out a way to wrestle it back and they were a great team that was playing really good solid hockey.
My inspiration to say that was basically just let the players know that I really did believe that we could we could beat New Jersey. We were this close to making it to the Stanley Cup Finals but we had to push harder and dig deeper. We had to look ourselves in the eyes and ask the tough question that every team has to answer to win a Stanley Cup. We had to ask ourselves if that was all we had and that was the end of the line for us or could we push harder and dig deeper. We weren’t finished and we were able to sneak out a couple moments to take back momentum and ultimately go to the Stanley Cup Final.
MW- You have a quote in the book that says “Belief can take you a long way as long as you’re prepared.” Obviously you guys were prepared but with the New York media and all the attention that guarantee garnered was there ever a moment where you thought, man I wish I hadn’t said that?
MM- Well, there’s no question. My intention was for 20 of our players to read it and I kind of forgot that millions of other folks would see it too around the metropolitan area and probably across the country [laughs].
At that point it didn’t really matter though I was so focused on trying to figure out a way to get the momentum back that we had lost in that series. I needed to make sure that we as players really believed that we could win. It’s hard to win a seven game series and it’s hard to win against a team that’s playing really well. It’s hard to win against a team when you’re down three to two going into game six but we had an amazing team that year.READ MORE: New York City's New Vaccine Mandate Also Impacts Kids 5-11
When I say team I mean that in every aspect of the word team. We worked beautifully together and we had a lot of talent, we had a lot of grit, we had a lot of experience. We had a great year and I think collectively we just felt that we weren’t finished yet and we had to figure out a way to make that run to get the cup.
MW- And you did. When you look back on that final series against Vancouver what moments really stand out to you that turned the tide in your favor?
MM- It was interesting, I think we might have played our best game of the playoffs in game one and lost. There’s not a lot of games you can give away in a Stanley Cup Final. Four wins or four losses come by pretty quickly so we were really disappointed.
Kirk McLean played an amazing game. He stopped 52 shots, took everything we threw at him and they came on top. We were able to regroup and win the next one and then go into Vancouver and win the next two. We really played well and had a complete stranglehold on the series.
We came home for the dreaded close out game in game five and as I mentioned in the book it’s so hard to stay focused with so many distractions. There was the excitement of the city and ticket requests and pre-planning all the things that come around with winning a clinching game in the Stanley Cup finals but we lost that game. Then of course game six they just know overwhelmed us and here we are again in game seven trying to figure out a way to win.
MW- That team had a laundry list of incredibly talented players from yourself to Brian Leetch to Adam Graves to Mike Richter to Sergei Zubov, I mean the list goes on and on. I know you talked about the preparation you all put in but what kind of bond did all share that allowed you to do something thaat hadn’t been done in over five decades?
MM- We had a great leadership on our team and we had great character on our team. We had players that were happy to play the roles that were given to them. We obviously had an amazing goalie with Mike Richter and we had two Norris Trophy winning defenseman. Adam Graves was a 50 goal scorer. Steve Larmer was as good of a two way player as there was in the league. But to me, our depth players, our size, our strength, to work we’re probably some of the biggest assets of our team.
You can look back at that team picture and ask were we the most talented Stanley Cup Championship team, maybe, maybe not. I mean having two Norris Trophy winners on one team is probably not a bad start in my opinion [laughs]. When I look back at that team I just think of the word team in capital letters. We represented everything good about a team and we played beautifully together. We accepted our roles and we had all the elements of a championship team. Miraculously after 54 years we were able to secure a Stanley Cup win for New York.
MW- It’s something else that your own cousin was one of those depth players on the team. How cool was it to win with Joby on the team?
MM- Yeah, amazing. I think back and look at the team picture with Joby there and being able to share that little bit of time in his career here in New York was so special. It all happened so fast back then but in reflection now that was a great moment for us.
MW- This current Rangers roster is looking to create some great moments of their own. The organization is on another decades long search for their next cup and they’ve committed to the youth movement that they believe will start to bear fruit this season. How do you feel about the team now and do you think they’re on the right path?
MM- Yeah, I do, I really like the team. I like the young players and I think they’ve got a treasure box full of talent. They’ve surrounded their skill guys with some grit and I think the team overall feels better balanced. I think they’re going to take a run for the division this year to be honest with you. I think they’ve got the team to do it.
They’re maybe not as experienced as other teams with all their young players but they’ve been at this now for three or four years and I think this year they’ll contend for the division.
MW- They certainly prioritized bringing in more grit this offseason and it seems to be paying off so far. It’s something they’ve really lacked the last few years.
MM- You have to have a good balance and any championship team has great balance. You need the heaviness in certain areas of the team, you have to have a skill, you have to have coaching, you have leadership all of that. Again, you can look back on any championship team and they more often than not have a balance of all those qualities. The Rangers might lack a little experience now but I think as the year goes on they’re going to get even better and have a great season.
MW- Do you see any comparisons between the squad that they have now and some of the guys that you played with or even yourself, if you see that,
MW- All of the Blueshirt faithful hope you’re right about that and we’re headed for a Metro title. Mark, thank you so much for the time and all the best with the book release on October 26th.
MM- Thank you so much for having me, appreciate talking to you.MORE NEWS: Westchester County Issues State Of Emergency As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Double
No One Wins Alone is available now wherever books are sold from Simon & Schuster (a ViacomCBS company).