March 31, 2004 - Sometimes a Buffalo team is merely around for a memorable event, part of the supporting cast rather than supplying the major part of the drama. Such was the case when Mark Messier said farewell to the loyal fans of the New York Rangers, as the Sabres provided the opposition for his last home game.
Messier had been playing for more than 20 years at that point, and was part of the great Edmonton Oilers' teams of the 1980. However, he'll always be remembered as a member of the New York Rangers, particularly when he led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994. That remains their only championship since 1940.
The Rangers were about to miss the postseason for the seventh straight year, and Messier didn't figure to be part of a rebuliding plan at the age of 43. So the fans responded with a goodbye that gave thrills to all in the building.
"I had goosebumps when I saw the ovation," Sabres forward Daniel Briere said to John Vogl of The News. "The way the fans reacted and the players, it's a special moment in hockey. It might have been his last goal, so that was pretty sweet to be there."
Then after the game, Messier was the last one off the ice as he took in a five-minute overation.
"I guess the great part about it is being able to share it with not only your teammates but the fans," Messier said. "The fans have been nothing but tremendously loyal. That's one of the great things about playing sports, is being able to share it with a lot of people."
--- Budd Bailey