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Mark Messier.Photo illustration The Globe and Mail. Source photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Twenty years since he last skated in the NHL, Mark Messier is still very much connected to the sport with which he has become synonymous. The third-highest scorer in league history – and the only man to captain two different Stanley Cup-winning franchises – continues to be a fixture on NHL screens across North America as one of the lead analysts on ESPN’s hockey broadcasts. But it’s another recently reprised role that resonates with fans as vividly as anything he did during his 25-year professional hockey career.

“I was down fishing in the Caribbean, and we stopped at a small marina in Tortola I believe and I came out of the cabin and went to talk to the attendant that we were going to refuel,” Messier says. “And he goes, ‘I know you, you’re the chip man. You were balling on TV last night.’ So I wasn’t the hockey player down there. They knew me more as a chip man than as a hockey player.”

Of course, the chip the attendant was referring to wasn’t any of the six championships that he won during his NHL tenure, but his well-publicized role as pitchman for potato chip manufacturer Lay’s. The Hall of Famer has signed back on with the company for a new advertising campaign, once again based around the signature tag line of ‘Betcha can’t eat just one.’


Did you have much experience with acting in your playing career?

I did. Actually I did one of the Slap Shot movies, I’ve done a few cameos. I didn’t actually have a cameo in Friends, but they had my jersey at a Ranger game, talking about me, and now my younger kids, [ages] 18 and 20, find that probably more impressive than my career as a hockey player that I actually made it on Friends.

When and where were you happiest?

We might have to break that down professionally and personally. Let’s start with four with my marriage and my three children, that’s easy. That’s got to come first; it’s family, people, and then everything else after that. Then I can give you six examples: ‘84, ‘85, ‘87, ‘88, ‘90 and 1994. Probably would be hard to replicate those six [Stanley Cup-winning] moments of my life.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I think having compassion and empathy is a great quality, helping providing access and opportunity for kids. I think those are some things that I’ve been passionate with my own foundation. So, I think leading from there, if you have an understanding of compassion and empathy, then you can kind of help create access and opportunity for the less fortunate, and that’s been a big passion of mine.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

That’s really tough. My greatest achievement? Maybe it hasn’t been realized yet. Maybe there’s something bigger for me to do that’s going to trump everything. I mean, I always lead with my kids and my family, that’s the easiest answer, right, but maybe there’s something bigger that will have more of an impact for kids around the world, who knows?

You’re so synonymous with drive, intensity and accomplishment. Does the idea that there’s possibly something bigger out there get you out of bed in the morning?

I don’t expect to find what I felt in sports, it’s going to be different. So I’m not trying to replicate what happened to me as an athlete in a different arena. I’m looking to do something impactful outside the game, but it’s probably going to look different, feel different, but still have as much impact as perhaps [I] did in sport.

You’re a hero to many Oilers fans, many Rangers fans, many Canadian hockey fans. Who are your heroes in real life?

Well, that’s an easy one. When I was growing up I was a massive Muhammad Ali fan. I loved everything about him. I had the opportunity to get to meet him and sometimes you never know what to expect when you’re going to meet somebody that you’ve idolized as a young boy, but he exceeded all expectations meeting him. Incredible, beautiful man, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and of course, as an athlete, someone to admire. The most recognized man on the planet for a reason, right? But I loved Bobby Orr growing up as a hockey player. Guy Lafleur was another guy that I admired. I read Ernest Shackleton, the Endurance book. I could admire a guy like that overcame all those obstacles to bring everyone home safe and so [I’m] big on leadership and reading about people that have done amazing things in their lives.

What other kinds of books do you read?

I like human-interest stories. I wouldn’t say I don’t like fiction, but I think the thing that inspires me is hearing people’s stories, their journeys, overcoming obstacles and hurdles to be successful. Having the grit and determination to drive through doubt, I think those are the inspiring stories I look for.

What would you say is your greatest extravagance in life?

I don’t live too extravagantly. Maybe my biggest extravagance was probably chasing marlin around the world for 25, 30 years on a sport-fishing boat that I built back in 1999. Deep-sea fishing is an incredible experience. Not only the travel but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a rugged environment, but it’s also incredibly powerful and beautiful at the same time.

What would you say is your most marked characteristic? If I were to ask a close friend about you, what would they say?

Maybe loyal? I’m not sure. It’s hard to talk about myself, but maybe they would say that. Or I’m a fun guy to go have a beer with, somewhere in between.

What is your most treasured possession?

Well, I learned a long time ago through many different teachings and learnings from the Eastern philosophy through Buddhism and all that is not to get too attached to materialistic things. So I don’t really put a lot of emphasis on that, but I built a Japanese haiku farmhouse down in South Carolina. All reclaimed wood and it’s a place that I go to reconnect with myself and recharge, it’s very Zen and an amazing, amazing spirit lives on that piece of land in that house.

What would you say is your greatest regret?

I don’t know if I have regrets. I don’t tend to look in the past. I think everything’s happened to me for a reason. I look at life and all its goodness and all its struggles as a learning opportunity to get to know myself. I don’t look at it as regrets. I look at it as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Do you have a motto?

I don’t necessarily say that I have a motto. But I never want to give into the situation. I never want to take the easy way out. I force myself to finish something or complete something or do something.

Is there a living person that you most admire?

Well, obviously my father has always been such an amazing role model for me, that’s the easy answer. An incredible man for many different reasons. So if I had to pick someone that’s living that’s had the most impact on me as a person, as an athlete, as a father, whatever, that it would be him.

What’s your greatest fear?

I don’t live my life in fear. So I’m going to say my biggest fear is to stop being fearless.

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