In 1996, Michael Farber wrote an in-depth article for Sports Illustrated on how, largely out of vanity, an alarming number of NHL players were wearing flimsy helmets that put them at risk of severe injury.
To read the SI article, visit:
Now 13 years later, as the mirror test is still a key influencer today, we asked Mark Messier about the parallels he sees between the game of hockey then and now, both from a player's perspective and now, as the leader of The Messier Project.
Here is Mark's reply:
"One of the biggest challenges we face not only with The Messier Project but also the M11 helmet is convincing the players that protection is performance. As a former player that played for 26 years professionally, I feel I have a very good perspective of the players' psyche in regards to protecting themselves. In a game where we measure our players in terms of their bravado and courage, no player wants to give the impression that they are worried about safety or injury. This attitude can be traced back long before I started playing hockey. It seems strange to me that we as players continue to adopt this attitude with the number of head injuries that have crept into our sport. Every other part of our game has evolved -- the rules, the arenas, the athletes, the equipment -- but for some reason we have neglected the most important piece of equipment, the helmet.
It is incredible to think that Michael Farber wrote this article almost 15 years ago over his concern with the helmets the players were wearing and how they were wearing them. One of the most frustrating things I see and hear about with the players, especially players who have had a history of concussions, is their concern with the way they look in any particular helmet. This is very troubling and confusing, with what is at stake, not only in terms of their careers but also for their own health and well-being, and beyond that, the message they are conveying as our game's greatest role models. This kind of attitude only makes my own resolve that much stronger to continue to educate hockey players around the world, young and old, about the responsibility they have not only to protect themselves, but to send a strong message to our youth as well. This is the mission of The Messier Project, and we will continue the process until we have changed priorities within our sport and all our players are making decisions regarding their helmets based on the highest indicator of performance -- and that is protection.
On a positive note, I am encouraged by our progress to date. From the support of our players, GM's and equipment managers at the NHL level to the overwhelming response at the amateur level, I believe that everyone is paying attention. And the public is paying attention too. To all the visitors to The Captain's Blog, and all those who have emailed Cascade Sports directly, I'd like to say thank you for your comments and for your support of The Messier Project.
-- Mark Messier"
In 1996, Michael Farber wrote an in-depth article for Sports Illustrated on how, largely out of vanity, an alarming number of NHL players were wearing flimsy helmets that put them at risk of severe injury.
Rich Boersma, a journalism student at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, is working on a story about the rising injury rates in the NHL and he had some really good questions for me and The Messier Project. I asked Rich if I could share a few of my responses with you here on The Captain’s Blog and he was kind enough to agree. Here are two of Rich’s questions and my reply. Thanks to Rich for his questions; I invite all of our readers and visitors to join in the conversation by posting comments here at my blog. I hope to hear from you.
Q: Have you thought about expanding your line to different equipment?
“Cascade Sports have been leaders in head protection for more than 20 years. It was their history of innovation and the company’s revolutionary Seven Technology that brought me to the table. I knew that I could work together with Cascade Sports to bring a player’s perspective to the design and development of the new M11 hockey helmet.
While I have been working to protect all players in our game through changing priorities – so that head protection is number one – and in the development of the M11, my main focus is and always has been on the kids. That’s why I’m very excited that The Messier Project will launch the M11 small size in February.
In regards to creating other equipment within The Messier Project line, I know Cascade Sports remains focused and committed to continuing their efforts to innovate and develop better head protection. Cascade Sports has a long history of innovation on head protection – first in swift water rescue helmets and then in lacrosse. In fact, Seven Technology was first used in Cascade’s Pro7 lacrosse helmet. But as soon as I learned about Seven Tech and understood how it worked, I immediately recognized its importance and relevance to hockey.
For me, I like the fact that every dollar the company invests in research and development goes towards innovating new technologies and creating new products that improve head protection. It is extremely expensive to design and build new products. The opportunity is really to take this expertise and experience and bring it to more sports – because so many are struggling with the same issues as hockey, in terms of head injuries.
Applying the technology and innovation to multiple sports also helps to keep the costs of the products down, because Cascade Sports can leverage their investment across multiple sports. When I first got involved with the company, I was very interested in the company’s ability to bring cutting edge technology and new products to the market at a price most hockey players can afford – that was extremely important to me.. If you check out the M11 compared to the other high performance helmets on the market today (in hockey), you will see how reasonably it is priced.
As the game of hockey continues to evolve, head protection and technology must continue to evolve in order to offer our athletes the best protection possible. For now, The Messier Project will continue to focus on developing new and innovative head protection and on changing priorities in the sport of hockey.”
Q: Do you think head shots and head injuries are the number one concern for hockey players?
“Concussions have crept into the game of hockey and I strongly believe we need to find a way to address the issue, which has become an epidemic. For me, the mission of The Messier Project is very much about changing priorities. The fact that we are still basically using the same technology in our helmets that we have used over the last three decades is horrifying. Every single piece of equipment has evolved except for the helmet.
While I cannot say whether or not concussions are the number one concern for players, I can say that I feel it is an extremely important issue and one that needs to be addressed across all levels of our sport, from the pros down to youth. While most players are aware of the issue, they just don’t go into a game, or practice for that matter, thinking they are going to get hurt. Part of it is the mentality of an athlete (the confidence that is required), and part of it is the heritage of the sport – the expectation that hockey players are courageous and play through injuries.
I do believe that everyone is paying attention right now, and I also believe most players feel it is time to change the mentality – and with that, we have a chance to change priorities. Over the last several months, it has been very rewarding to see the game’s greatest influencers working to find a solution. I am proud of the M11 and the mission of The Messier Project is very personal to me. But I also recognize that this is just one part of a finding a real solution.
We need all the stakeholders – players, coaches, General Managers, trainers, equipment mangers and parents – to come together, evaluate the current environment and all the changes that have led to the current environment (from rule changes to player attitudes and equipment evolution) to determine what really needs to be done. In order to address the issue of concussion in hockey, we have to get everyone pulling in the same direction. We have to gain a unified commitment from the stakeholders to find a solution… and it all starts with the conversation.”
(1.) Carolyn Buck of Springfield, NJ, the mother of a young squirt player, sent in a letter to The Messier Project on a very important subject – checking in youth hockey and teaching safe play in the game. Carolyn asks what has been done in the past 10 years to change body checking and promote safe play, and she feels that 11 years old is too young to start checking. Mark – what are your thoughts on checking in youth hockey, your thoughts on safe play and what we need to teach our youth players at an early age, and how safer checking and safe play in general can contribute to better protection against concussion and other injuries?
“Thank for bringing up this important topic, Carolyn. Checking in hockey – especially at the youth level – is something I think about and speak about often.
The fast-paced, physical nature of hockey is what makes it exciting, and it is an integral part of the game. But I think it is extremely important that we teach our kids at an early age how to hit, how to take a hit, and how to respect each other both on and off the ice. It is part of our responsibility as youth coaches, mentors and stewards of the game to teach our kids this part of the game so that later on, as they move through the sport, they become responsible for taking their safety into their own hands.
We’ve changed the rules and many are working to eliminate checking and hitting to make the youth game safer. But eliminating this aspect of the game, even at the youth level, does more harm than good in my opinion. By trying to protect our kids with rule changes that define how we can hit, when we can hit and where we can hit, I think we’ve given our youth players a false sense of protection and in turn they have lost the protective instincts that are so important in the sport of hockey. It is these protective instincts that must be fostered and taught at a young age.
I have perhaps a different perspective on this than most, likely because of the era I grew up and played youth and minor hockey in. I grew up playing countless hours of shinny on the outdoor rinks in my hometown. I grew up playing hockey knowing full well that I had to protect myself at all times. You can’t expect everyone to play by the rules. With this cemented in my mind at an early age, I moved through my career playing 20 years as a minor hockey player and 26 years as a professional.
Today, I think that by trying so hard to protect our kids, we have left them defenseless. Our game will never be one that is danger free, but players don't go in to a game thinking they are going to get hurt. The speed at which the game is played, along with the power that is generated, has never been higher. We need to arm our kids with the knowledge of how to protect themselves at all times, and in different situations. The earlier we do this the better. It is all about a balance between teaching safe play, protection instincts and making equipment decisions that best protect our players.
One of the missions of The Messier Project is to work with coaches, players, parents and the game’s stakeholders, across all levels, to encourage safe play. While better equipment and new technology, such as that within the M11, do help better protect players, it is only one part of the solution. Encouraging safe play is extremely important and I think that teaching kids how to give and take a check is critical.”
(2.) Troy Traux, a visitor to The Messier Project.com and the Captain’s Blog, has raised an important point about chinstraps and how many players wear them very loose – which is dangerous. Mark, can you share your thoughts on the importance of a well-fitting helmet, a properly worn chin strap, and how this all contributes to the safety of hockey players across all levels?
“Thanks for bringing attention to the chinstrap issue, Troy. You are exactly right, even the most protective helmet can only protect you if it stays on your head when a collision occurs.
The correct way to wear the chinstrap is to have it securely attached to the helmet and adjusted for a snug fit. In part because of the velocity that players are being hit these days, there is a tendency for the helmet to rise up on impact – so it is extremely important that the chinstrap be worn tightly so that the strap and the entire helmet fit snugly and ultimately stay on.
The Pro Fit system on our new M11 helmet is a dynamic contour system that creates a 360° degree fit for high comfort and performance. The ProFit draws the helmet in and around the head using a 15-point micro-adjustment system that sits low on the back of the head and eliminates pressure points and ensures a snug fit so that the helmet stays on.
It is imperative that we educate the players on protecting themselves, and the consequence of not doing so. While players must take responsibility when it comes to protecting themselves in wearing their equipment properly and tightening their chinstrap, I think it is also necessary that we implement new rules that mandate a player must wear the equipment the way it made to protect them.”
A big hearty hello from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I am here for the World Junior Championships, and if you ever get the chance to go and see these young kids play, I would highly recommend doing so. The games are excellent, the town is completely overtaken with hockey fans from around the world, and the atmosphere is like a carnival.
With a new year upon us, and many challenges in front of us, we will continue The Messier Project campaign and our mission to evolve priorities within the sport of hockey with a goal of protecting our players better by addressing the issue of concussion. We will continue to create awareness, lead initiatives and engage the hockey community to inspire conversation around creating solutions.
Change of any kind is always difficult. However, we are confident in the feedback we receive from players, teams, coaches, equipment managers, trainers, mothers, fathers and many others in the hockey world who have joined The Messier Project team. We look forward to continuing our conversation!
Here's to a great big cheer for the tireless efforts of all our supporters and their belief in our mission.
(1.) Hockey has always been an important family activity for you, both when you were young and now as a father. During this holiday season, when many families are gathering for pick-up games and playing hockey on their driveways – or if they’re lucky, on backyard ponds – can you share some of your own family hockey memories and your thoughts on the joy of playing hockey in its purest form?
My earliest memories were of playing Hockey, either outside on ice rinks, on a frozen pond, or if we were lucky enough, an indoor rink out of the wind and cold. I was also lucky to have a father who played professional Hockey, and I can remember being able to go with him to his practices and skating before his team went on the ice. However, I will never forget being able to go to the local outdoor corner ice rink, after school and playing shinny Hockey with my friends until dark.
(2.) The NHL is set to celebrate a return to hockey’s roots with the upcoming Winter Classic at Fenway Park. Can you share some of your own pond hockey and outdoor hockey memories and also your anticipation / expectations for the big game between the Flyers and the Bruins on New Year’s Day?
My entire minor Hockey was played on outdoor rinks until I was about 14. When I had a chance to play in the outdoor game in Edmonton against the Montreal Canadians, it seemed like my Hockey career had come full circle. There is something about playing hockey outside that invigorates the soul. I hope that all our kids have a chance to play at least some of their minor Hockey on the outdoor rinks.
I think the game in Boston will be another great day for the game of Hockey. The North East area of the United States has a long tradition of producing some of the game’s greatest players and continue to drive their minor league programs. It will be a day many parents, coaches, kids, and players will remember for a long time.
(3.) As the holiday season and the Winter Classic celebrate hockey’s deep traditions and rich history, what are your thoughts on the evolution of the game and hockey’s future? As the New Year approaches, what are some things you’re looking forward to in the game – both on the ice and off – in 2010?
I think the NHL is as healthy as we have seen it in a long time. We have felt the recession like every other enterprise, however, I think as a whole, we are coping very well. I also feel that we have as many bright young talented kids in the game as we have seen in a long time. It seems every team is boasting of a great young player. This is good news for the NHL, as the players drive the entertainment of our game.
I am really looking forward to the Olympics in Vancouver. The competition between Countries will be intense. Having the games played in Canada, where we have always had so much pride in our Hockey, should make for an incredible tournament. The game’s will be played with an extraordinary amount of talent, maybe the most in the history of our game.
As the concussion issue in hockey continues to generate more and more attention, especially after Dr. Charles Tator’s symposium in Canada last week, I wanted to take some time this week to share my thoughts on factors that need to be addressed to better protect our players, my concerns on the current state of youth hockey, and the ways I believe the entire hockey community needs to come together to address the issue of concussion in our sport.
From Dr. Tator’s symposium and the media to the NHL General Managers to the pros themselves, everybody is paying attention to the serious issue of concussion in hockey and it is very positive to see all the game’s greatest influencers working to find a solution. I am very proud of the M11 and the mission of The Messier Project is very personal to me. But I also recognize that this is just one part of a finding a real solution.
We need all the stakeholders to come together to really address the issue of concussion in hockey. I think we need to take a close look at the ways the game has changed over the years and the contributing factors to the increase in concussions, starting with the size and skill level of the athlete to new equipment and our playing surface.
I believe it is a chain of events over time that has led to where we are today with respect to the current epidemic of concussion. The evolution of equipment is a factor – protective pads are lighter and more rigid, especially shoulder and elbow pads. And when it comes to the helmet, we need to change the priorities within our sport to make head protection a top priority. This needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all the stake holders: players, NHL, NHLPA, Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, and perhaps most importantly, the manufacturers. I also believe we need to re-examine our certification standards, as these standards were written when the goal of the hockey helmet was to prevent catastrophic injury. While the manufacturers have addressed that issue – as helmets do prevent catastrophic injury – we now have an alarming number of concussions at all levels of the sport, so it is clear that the standards do not address the game and players’ current need for protection.
I believe the changes in the playing area have potentially contributed to rise in concussions as well. The glass and boards have become too rigid, and what was once a normal body check is turning into a concussion. You can imagine the impact WWE would have if they wrestled on a concrete floor. We need to soften the playing area and examine our equipment standards.
I also believe it is up to the players to protect themselves at all times. I see too many players leaving themselves vulnerable expecting the opposing players to turn away. The NHL is a game that is played with high intensity; there is a great deal on the line for every player and every organization. That intensity is part of what I feel makes our game great. However, our players need to take responsibility as well.
To a certain extent I believe our players have lost the necessary survival instincts because the rules that were put in place to protect them have also given the players a false sense of security. I also think it would be worthwhile to go back and examine the impact the obstruction rule has had on hits to defensemen going back to retrieve the puck and consider whether we have made them to vulnerable to forecheckers.
From a broader perspective, I think we need to evaluate each of these changes and the impact they have had on the game, with a focus on moving forward and potential opportunities to reduce risks for player injuries.
The game must evolve, yet there is a delicate balance between allowing the game to evolve and maintaining the heritage and tradition that makes hockey the greatest game of all.
Because I believe it is the greatest game of all, I have long felt a responsibility to protect the game – and its players.
The well-known John Buccigross of ESPN.com recently posted an excellent article entitled “My 13 Simple Rules for Hockey Parents Everywhere” (http://espn.go.com/nhl/notebook/_/page/buccigross_091215/my-13-simple-rules-hockey-parents-everywhere); I encourage you to read it. This is a subject I am quite passionate about as I have become very concerned about the state of youth hockey.
If I could dispense one piece of advice to young hockey players and their parents, I would tell them not to fall into the trap of “more is better”. The truth is more isn’t necessarily better at a young age. We have professionalized our sport at such an early age, with the hope of giving our children the best chance to succeed. Parents have bought into the theory that they need their kids on the ice for 12 months a year to “make it.” Private lessons, tournaments every weekend, have and are taking a toll on our family values.
Hockey, like all youth sports, was designed to benefit boys and girls’ physical and mental well being. Youth sports are about teaching life lessons – mentoring our children and creating experiences that will serve them well in any walk of life. Leaning what it takes to be a good teammate teaches meaningful lessons in character development that will make a lifelong impact. Far too often the result is more important than the journey. When the focus is on winning, kids are chastised for a missed check or making a mistake. Instead we need to focus on the development of each child, first as a person and then as an athlete. This foundation requires a safe environment where kids feel confident to take risks and learn the benefits of positive reinforcement. At the end of the day, this is an important conversation. I think we really need to take a step back and evaluate what is happening at the youth level and what it is that we value and would like to pass on to our children.
Thank you for reading and for letting me share my thoughts with you. I encourage you to post comments here at the Captain’s Blog. I look forward to seeing you all back here at the Captain’s Blog next week.
As momentum for The Messier Project and the M11 helmet continues to build, Mark Messier shares his thoughts here at the Captain’s Blog on the recent NHL GM meetings and the overwhelmingly positive response to the Project and its mission.
1.) First, congratulations on being named the General Manager of Hockey Canada’s 2010 IIHF World Hockey Championship team!
Thank you! It is an incredible opportunity and challenge to do something special for Hockey Canada. Canadians are passionate about hockey, so as a player, representing my country always held a special significance. I am now looking forward to the challenge on the management side to position our team to compete for gold and represent Canada with pride.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will be looking to name a management staff, a coaching staff and then identify players that will give Canada the best chance at winning gold in May 2010.
2.) Speaking of General Managers, recently you and your sister Mary-Kay had an opportunity to present to the NHL General Managers on behalf of The Messier Project and the M11. Can you tell us a bit about those meetings and the feedback you received?
It was a tremendous honor and opportunity to present The Messier Project and the M11 to the NHL General Managers. They have a lot at stake – first and foremost, protecting their players. However they also have a business to run and millions of dollars are lost over the course of an NHL season as a result of games missed due to injury.
Everybody is paying attention and it is very positive to see all the game’s greatest influencers working to find a solution. I think all the teams were very open-minded and interested in learning about the M11 and Seven Technology.
I am very proud of the M11 and the mission of The Messier Project is very personal to me. But I also recognize that this is just one part of a finding a real solution. We need all the stakeholders to come together to really address the issue of concussion in hockey.
Change is not easy and it takes time, but when you consider the consequences and if you truly believe in the mission, then you have to be persistent and stay the course. Overall, we are off to a great start as the response to The Messier Project and the M11 has been overwhelming!
We have a few NHL players wearing the M11 and I know they love it. They have been exceptionally supportive and have really embraced the greater initiative to not only make the choice to protect themselves better, but in doing so, also set a great example for our youth – which at the end of the day is at the very heart of our mission and why I got involved in this issue.
Harvard University came on board right from day one and that has been a tremendous experience – they too have taken a leadership role and I am proud to have them on my team.
Hockey Canada, the NHL and the NHLPA have all been supportive, as well as many of the State divisions of USA Hockey.
We now have dealers across North America who have partnered with us to make the M11 available. We can’t keep up with all the new teams joining The Messier Project! Take a look at “The Evolved” section of our website for a list of the players and teams that are wearing the M11.
And we receive emails every day from parents, players and coaches and associations that are completely on board. When I see these letters and meet parents that thank me for what I am doing, it reminds me just how important The Messier Project is to the sport of hockey.
3.) With your work on behalf of The Messier Project and in sharing your mission with players, leagues, coaches, parents, teams, equipment managers, trainers and associations across North America, you have quickly become a pioneer in making head (brain) protection a priority in the game of hockey. What inspired you to act and to become a leader in this mission to change priorities in the sport?
The concussion issue was what first brought me to the table. The fact that we are still basically using the same technology in our helmets that we have used over the last three decades or more is horrifying. Every single piece of our equipment has evolved except the helmet.
Right now there is a lot of focus on how the helmet looks- that seems to be the determining factor players base their decision on, not only at the pro level, but also with the kids. That is frightening when you consider what’s at stake. But I also think it is understandable – up until now – because players really haven’t had a choice. Basically all helmets have been equal in that they all do a great job preventing against catastrophic injury. If the protection is all equal, players could then make their decision based on design, comfort and look.
That is why, I feel, the mission of The Messier Project is so important. We need to change the priorities within our sport to make head protection a top priority- and it needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all the stake holders: players, NHL, NHLPA, Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, and perhaps most importantly, the manufacturers.
Concussions have crept into our game and we need to find a way to address this issue, which has become an epidemic. Cascade Sports has spent years innovating and developing products solely for the purpose of filling this void and providing better head protection. That is why I am so proud to partner with them in this initiative.
The revolutionary Seven Technology, featured in the M11, is a liner system that Cascade Sports designed to manage multiple impacts more effectively. This is key and the first step in moving our sport in the right direction. However, as we continue to educate, and head protection becomes the priority, I believe in the next five years, we will be wearing helmets that won’t even resemble what we have worn for the last three decades or more.
The time has come to change. The players are ready, and I believe they will demand better protection.
Thanks for reading and check in next week- I’ll share my concerns over the current state of youth hockey and discuss other factors that must be addressed to better protect our players.
Q: Congratulations on being named a recipient of the 2009 Lester
Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. You will be honored with Mike Richter and Detroit Red Wings Senior Vice President Jim Devellano at a special reception on Oct. 21 in NYC. What does this mean to you? What is your vision for the sport in the future?
A: I have to say it was a special surprise to me when I was told of the award. I really think the Cup in 94 had a huge impact on U.S.A. hockey. Having two American born players at the forefront of that team, gave children playing hockey in the U.S., incentive to keep working hard and it also gave them hope. It also captured the attention of many non hockey fans that were drawn into the story of the team and franchise as we closed in on the Rangers first cup in 54 years. It is an honor to be awarded the Lester Patrick Award. I believe, as players we have a responsibility to help grow and nurture our sport at the grass root level. As custodians of our game, it is imperative to monitor our sport at all levels to ensure Hockey remains a healthy, fun, and exciting game, that can teach many life lessons along the way.
Q: The Rangers have advanced to a 4-0 (its now 6-0) start so far this season with some impressive play. What are your thoughts on its performance thus far? In your experience, how can the team build on this momentum and carry it through the rest of the season?
A: There is a different feeling around the team this year. Right from the first day of training camp, you could sense a feeling of confidence that has not been there for a long time. John Torterella has done a very impressive job preparing the team to play physically, and emotionally. Getting off to a good start is always important, however, it is a long year, and we need to be diligent in our preparation on a day to day basis.
Q: With concussions already a factor in the early days of the 2009-10 NHL season, how will you continue to work with the League and its teams to educate players on the importance of better head protection and the mission of The Messier Project? To date, Edmonton, Toronto, Nashville, Philadelphia, have all been affected by concussion. In addition to better head protection, what sort of action can the teams and its players take?
A: I think one of the things we need to look at very seriously is the standards required for the certification of hockey helmets. It is obvious that the helmet from the past is not standing up to the rigors of the game today. In terms of what we can do now, it is also important to educate the players and parents to ensure protection becomes a priority when making decisions regarding helmet choices. In addition to a good fit, players and parents need to understand the impact performance of a helmet to help reduce the risk of concussion. We have talked alot about Seven Technology, the impact attenuation liner system of the M11 -- but in my mind this is something players and parents need to know. In the CSA and HECC certification designed test, Seven Technology performs 26% better on first impact, 107% better on 2nd impact and 140% better on third impact than traditional EPP foam. Although 26% is significant when you are talking about protecting your brain, the real performance comes into play upon subsequent impacts. The reason behind this performance is the ability of Seven Technology material to return to its original shape almost immediately. Within 10 seconds of an impact, Seven Technology completely (100%) resets and is ready for the next impact. Hockey is a physical game- it is part of what makes our game so great- it is a multiple impact sport. But, having said that, we need to make sure our players are protected and ready. Better protecting our players will help to reduce the risk of concussion and this is crucial to the long term health of the game.
Q: ESPN recently premièred a new sports documentary series called “30 for 30.” The first episode, entitled “Kings Ransom,” focused on Wayne Gretzky’s trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles. Can you recall and share any of your own, personal memories from this time?
A: I was like everybody else. We could not believe that Wayne was going to be traded. When the news came out, we were all devastated. We were like brothers, and to see Wayne get traded was very tough.
Q: After playing so many years in Edmonton, you’ve talked about the transition to New York and how much you loved playing on Broadway. New York became your home very quickly. What advice can you give current players in the midst of a transition? For example, Marion Gaborik seems to be thriving as a New York Ranger; Phil Kessel is adjusting from a surprise move from Boston to Toronto.
A: When I came to New York, I was 30 years old and ready for a life change as well as a challenge professionally. I think for any player coming into this market, preparing yourself to play, both physically and emotionally is very important. There are many distractions that can take your concentration away from the most important task at hand. Preparation and discipline are critical.
Q. It seems like you have come full circle in your career from player to management with a team where you have such a famous history. What does it mean to you to return to the New York Rangers in this new role? What do you find exciting and what do you find challenging?
A. It is hard to believe it has been 5 years since my retirement. Coming back to the Rangers is very exciting for me. I am really looking forward to joining the management team and competing again, although competing in a different way. From an organization stand point, I really enjoy the team development. As a young player, I remember the veteran players that helped me make the transition from the Junior League to the NHL. I look forward to contributing any way I can to help the team and organization have a successful season.
Q. How much will you be working with guys like Dubinsky who are already on the team?
A. I am not in direct contact with the players on a day to day basis. That is the coach’s responsibility- one voice, one message. Having said that, I am certainly available to assist the coaching staff if they feel it is necessary or I can contribute in some way.
Q. I understand The Messier Project has been on an NHL tour with teams and players about the M11. What is your message to the players? How have the players responded? Who is supporting The Messier Project, wearing the M11? What are the challenges?
A. The M11 has been very well received by the NHL players in camp. Change is always hard, especially in a sport as traditional as hockey. For that reason, we didn’t expect to have a huge impact in terms of the number of players changing over to the M11 in the beginning. What we did find is that a lot of players were open and interested in the conversation. We are talking about revolutionizing head protection- essentially introducing a new era. Anything of that magnitude takes time and great patience. But we feel strongly that this is something that needs to be done and therefore we are committed for the long haul. We also believe over time the players will see the value of what and who we are, and what our mission is.
At the NHL level we are looking for players who understand the importance of protecting themselves and in doing so are also protecting their careers. When you are playing, it is difficult to look beyond that time line. However, when you take into account the potential devastating effects of concussion, we also believe in the importance of protecting your head (brain) with an eye on “quality of life” after hockey. This is a critical message we need to get through to players at all levels, but especially our youth. NHL players are the game’s greatest influencers. We want the players who are interested in joining the fight against concussions by changing the priorities within our sport to make head protection a top priority. By supporting this mission and wearing the M11, these players will in turn be protecting kids playing hockey and ultimately help to preserve our great game.
With any new product, even if a player is 100% bought in, it does take time to get used to a change. So, we have many NHL players still evaluating the M11, but to this point in the season we have enjoyed tremendous support from:
I am honored these players have joined our team in our mission to address concussions in hockey.
Q. Mark, What is your opinion regarding the importance of Skate Sharpening?
A. Good question. When we visited the PHATS-SPHEM (Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers & Equipment Managers) convention this summer, I was introduced to a brand new technology in skate sharpening. Instead of cutting the blade in a c-cup formation, it cuts the blade in a squared U angle. The company says it gives the players less drag without sacrificing the sharp edge the players look for, which sounds very interesting. Skate sharpening is a very personal decision and something most players are very specific about- which often requires a different setting on the machine for each guy- meaning, the amount of edge put on the blade. I was a guy that did not like sharp skates. I liked the feeling of a smooth glide. Technology keeps improving which offers many options. At the end of the day, it is still something that is very personal and each player needs to decide what is right for him or her.
Q. Who was your favorite NHL player when you were a kid?
A. My two favorite players as a kid growing up were Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur. Saturday night, watching Hockey Night In Canada was always the best part of the week. It was a big tradition in Canada, both from a hockey and family perspective.
Q. What are your thoughts about young players being named captain? In some cases there are players 15 years older than their captain, how does this make things more difficult?
A. I have reservations about this topic as well. Of course, every situation and player is different. A player coming into the NHL has many challenges to cope with, not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. Giving a player ample time to be one of the guys and make mistakes is all part of the maturation process and I believe required to become an effective and passionate leader. Accelerating this process has hurt a few players in the past. However, once in awhile you have a few special players and people like Crosby and potentially Toews that can handle the situation.
I had a really great conversation with NHL Digest over the weekend about fighting in hockey. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this issue with you and also my position on the importance of head protection both while playing and if a player engages in a fight:
Fighting in hockey has been debated for many years by team officials, players, experts, and fans. The one constant in all the discussions is that there are no easy answers or solutions. As a former player, fighting was an accepted aspect of the game. Of course when I first started, very few games were televised around the country, and every move the league or teams made was not scrutinized by millions of viewers.
Over the last few decades, fighting in hockey has changed tremendously. In the 70’s fighting really hit its peak, being lead by the Broad Street Bullies in Philadelphia. The Flyers were the Stanley Cup Champions and played a very aggressive in-your-face game, which often lead to fisticuffs on the ice. Bench clearing brawls were the norm, and of course, all this trickled down to the minor leagues and even into the grass roots level.
The 80’s followed with an invasion of highly skilled European players that started to make their way over to play in the NHL. And soon after came the games Greatest player ever in Wayne Gretzky, who possessed a game of skill and awareness that had never been seen before. Led by Wayne, the Edmonton Oilers became the benchmark for success, adopting a highly skilled, fast skating game, which forced the rest of the league to change their philosophy from a grinding up and down your wing, to a skating, interweaving game that resembled a more European style.
The league took tremendous steps to reduce fighting and eliminate bench clearing brawls. Requiring players to return to their benches as soon as a fight broke out and the institution of many other new rules greatly reduced the number of fights that took place in any particular game.
While the focus now is on a more skilled, high tempo game, fighting is still a topic of conversation, particularly when a player is hurt as a result of the fight. Players are bigger and stronger than ever, and have taken the skill of fighting to a new level. Hockey is a great game of passion, skill, discipline, courage and heart. However, in addition to these great attributes, intimidation has always played and will continue to play a part in the game.
One of the latest problems associated with fighting is players taking their helmets off before engaging in a fight. One of the reasons for this was the mandatory visor rule that was implemented much like the hockey helmet was back in 1979. Because of the shields and full cages, taking the helmets off became a way of showing respect and bravado.
Hockey, like life, is ever changing and evolving. We as a league must always have the best interests in our minds and hearts for the players, teams and fans. The changes that have taken place over the last 30 years have made our game better than ever. We will continue to make the necessary changes to ensure we not only protect our players, but provide the fans with the best product and entertainment possible.
Fighting has always been a part of hockey, and I personally believe that it will continue to be one aspect of our game. Part of what makes hockey so entertaining is that it requires physical and mental toughness. But as the game continues to evolve, I believe that player safety and better protection need to be our top priority. If that means instituting a rule – like Hockey Canada – that makes it mandatory to keep your helmet on in a fight, I would support it.
The Messier Project, my new collaboration with Cascade Sports, is committed to elevating head protection in hockey and we are working to change priorities in the sport. A helmet and its protective technology are just as important – if not more important – than the skates you wear or the stick you use.
In developing the M11, I worked very closely with the innovators at Cascade Sports to bring a player’s perspective to the design. One of the features I am most proud of is the ProFit system, which I think ties into this conversation. During game play and especially if a player engages in a fight, it is extremely important that the helmet stays on to prevent potential head injury due to a blow to the head or the more serious threat of a player’s head hitting the ice.
The Pro Fit system creates a 360 degree fit- tapering the entire helmet in around the head for a snug, “toque” feel. When your helmet fits right, it is safer on impact and when adjusted properly, a good fit increases the level of protection the helmet offers. From a performance perspective, the M11 ProFit allows a player to fine-tune the fit and adjust it on the fly based on the situation and environment.
Thank you for your question. It is conversations and questions like these that are so important to the evolution and continued success of our game.