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A small Alberta city has admitted it was offside when it decided to sell off naming rights to local hockey rinks honouring two homegrown National Hockey League heroes -- Mark Messier and Troy Murray.

"There was never any intention to diminish the recognition given," St. Albert Mayor Paul Chalifoux told reporters yesterday after announcing the city was dumping the unpopular idea and had issued letters of apology to the retired hockey stars.

Mr. Chalifoux said the original decision, which was slammed by many media outlets including Sports Illustrated, sparked a massive public backlash. He received angry e-mails from people as far away as Ottawa.

"I was personally involved along the way and I do regret it," Mr. Chalifoux said. "In hindsight, we would have done things very differently."

When the plan was first devised, Mr. Messier and Mr. Murray were quietly offered the first opportunity to buy the naming rights, but both declined. St. Albert was asking $200,000 for the naming rights to the Mark Messier Arena and $125,000 for the Troy Murray Arena.

Both contracts were for five-year terms, and the money was going to be used to help fund a new $43-million leisure centre, which is due to open this fall. The tony bedroom community of 56,000 is located just north of Edmonton.

When the plan became public earlier this summer, the reaction was largely negative, with one New York newspaper dubbing it the "name game shame" and the Edmonton Sun calling it the "Mess mess."

Both Mr. Murray and Mr. Messier grew up in the small city, also called home by Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who played for the now-defunct St. Albert Saints junior team before joining the NHL.

During Mr. Messier's storied 25 years in the NHL, he won six Stanley Cups, five with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the New York Rangers.

Mr. Murray played in the NHL for 15 years and once was awarded the Frank Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward.

Mr. Murray, who now works in the radio booth doing colour commentary for the Chicago Blackhawks, said yesterday that he hasn't seen the letter of apology, but is nonetheless happy with the change of heart.

"At what point do you sell out the history of something and put it to the highest bidder?" he said.

Mr. Murray said he couldn't afford to buy the naming rights himself when the offer was put to him earlier this year. "I don't have that kind of money."

Still, Mr. Murray said he is sympathetic to the city's attempt to pump more money into minor hockey.

"I just don't think that they understood or thought the fallout would be anything near what it was."