Former New York Rangers captain Mark Messier stepped down as special assistant to team President Glen Sather to help develop the world’s largest indoor ice facility at a vacant Bronx armory.
Messier, 52, said his exit from the Rangers isn’t connected with being passed over as coach last week in favor of Alain Vigneault. Messier, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, had interviewed for the job and previously said he was disappointed about not being picked to succeed John Tortorella.
“Although some will perceive this as a reaction to the coaching decision, nothing could be further from the truth,” Messier said yesterday in a statement. “I completely respect the decision that was made and for all the reasons it was made. I harbor no hard feelings toward Glen or the Rangers.”
Messier won six Stanley Cups as a player, including 1994, when he led the Rangers to the National Hockey League title that ended the franchise’s 54-year championship drought. The two-time NHL Most Valuable Player appeared in his final game in 2004 and had been an assistant to Sather since 2009.
Messier said he wants to focus on expanding the sport of hockey in New York with the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, in which former Deutsche Bank AG asset manager Kevin Parker is investing $275 million to turn a vacant armory into a 750,000-square-foot skating center with nine regulation-size rinks. The first five rinks are set to open in late 2018 in the Bronx, the poorest of New York City’s five boroughs.
“This is a personal choice I am making to create a program in the New York area that will give our children more choices and opportunities in the future,” Messier said. “I wish the Rangers nothing but the best in the future.”
The Kingsbridge Armory, built between 1912 and 1917, takes up a full city block and has been vacant since 1996. The planned ice center includes a 5,000-seat main rink and will host hockey tournaments, figure skating and speedskating competitions, and ice shows. City officials said in April that they expect the facility to attract 2 million visitors a year.
Vigneault, fired by the Vancouver Canucks last month, was announced as coach of the Rangers on June 21, inheriting a team that has made the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons.
When Vigneault was hired, Sather said he was unsure of Messier’s future with the team.
“Mark Messier will always be a part of the New York Rangers family,” Sather said yesterday. “As a player and then as part of the management team, he brought incomparable passion and dedication to the organization. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”