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 Mark Messier aimed for championships during his 25-season career, not the Hall of Fame.
``It wasn't something in Canada as a boy that we aspired to,'' Messier said. ``Our big thing was pretending we were an NHL player and scoring the winning goal to win the Stanley Cup. That was the dream.''
He lived it, time and time again. Six to be exact.
Messier netted the decisive goal in 1994 to end the Rangers' 54-year drought without a title. Add that to his legacy born in Edmonton with the Oilers, who won five times in seven years.
Forever known as ``The Captain'' in both places, his No. 11 hangs from the rafters in each city that claims Messier as its own. Now the player with the rock-solid jaw, and perhaps the greatest leader in all team sports, takes the next step.
Leafs.
``The four of them, that's a very special kind,'' said St. Louis Blues president John Davidson, also a former Rangers broadcaster. ``I'm on the selection committee and I don't know why we had the meeting.''
This class could be the one with the least debate.
Messier is second on the NHL points list with 1,887, trailing only longtime teammate Wayne Gretzky, who won four Stanley Cup titles with him in Edmonton then joined him for another season in New York.
Francis is fourth in points (1,798) while putting a face to the Hartford Whalers franchise. Stevens played more regular-season games than any other defenseman (1,635) and was fifth overall. MacInnis tallied 1,274 points, third among blue-liners.
``They all were great in their own game,'' Messier said. ``Their professionalism, their commitment to being a professional on and off the ice. Real, real pros.''
Messier faced MacInnis during the Battle of Alberta games between the Oilers and Calgary Flames in the '80s, calling the defenseman ``the backbone of those teams.'' Stevens was the captain in New Jersey when the Devils and Rangers battled across the Hudson River the following decade.
The Rangers had to get through Stevens and the Devils in a classic seven-game series to advance to the 1994 finals.
``One of the toughest competitors I ever played against,'' Messier said. ``As an opponent he was a guy that you had to know when he was on the ice.''
No one ever lost track of Messier, either.
He dressed for 1,756 regular-season games with the Oilers, two stints with the Rangers and a tour with Vancouver between stops in New York.
``There are a tremendous amount of reasons why he's a Hall of Famer - first of all his work ethic and passion for the game,'' Gretzky said. ``He once said it best when he said there was nothing about the game he didn't like.''
Counting the postseason, Messier scored 803 goals in an NHL-record 1,992 games. That puts him fourth behind Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Brett Hull.
What Messier cherishes, however, are the relationships forged from the time his parents took him to rinks in the early morning until the day he hung up his skates in 2004.
``It's not about looking that I scored so many goals and won six Stanley Cups, it's about the people that made it happen and the commitment,'' Messier said. ``That's what, to me, drums up the emotion.''
For all his toughness, Messier never was shy about letting tears flow. He cried when he returned to Madison Square Garden in 1997 with the Canucks, and when he re-signed with the Rangers in 2002. All signs point to more of the same Monday.
``I'm sure it will be emotional again,'' Messier said. ``It cannot be after that many years and that many people being a factor.''
Messier first visited the Hall of Fame in the early 1980s and has been back several times.
``I grew up with a healthy respect for the tradition of the game and all the players that came before me and what it meant for them to win the Stanley Cup,'' he said. ``When I see the Hall of Fame, I see the players there that I am going to be shouldered up with.''
Messier won four Cup titles with Gretzky before ``The Great One'' was traded to Los Angeles, then captured another in Edmonton when the team was truly his. He won two without Gretzky, but Gretzky never captured the Cup without Messier.
``We had fun together, we pushed each other and we made each other better players,'' Gretzky said. ``And at the end of the day, we both benefited tremendously from that.''
Messier came to New York with the charge of teaching the Rangers how to become champions and stopping the chants of ``1940'' that followed the club on many road stops as a reminder of the last time the team won a championship.
``I felt what I learned in Edmonton is about what it took to win,'' Messier said. ``And the resources that the Rangers could provide, together we could somehow make it happen. I didn't realize all the challenges that are presented in a town like New York.''
Messier, with his kids growing up, figures he'll return to the game in a management job, and maybe soon. For now, he can replay the glory years in his mind.
``The last few years have been a chance to reflect on everything,'' he said. ``When you're playing you are just always in the moment. You don't have time or should you be looking at what you already did.''
---
AP freelance writer Joe Resnick in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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