Messier's versatility a bonus for Keenan
By Michael Russo
Posted October 10 2003
SUNRISE · One day he's playing forward, the next he's on the blue line. The versatile Eric Messier doesn't get dizzy and confused.
If anything, the anticipation of what position he's playing on a given day adds to the excitement of showing up for work.
"Maybe I'm the third goalie sometimes, you never know," joked Messier, the longtime Colorado Avalanche forward/defenseman who made his Panthers debut Thursday night against Carolina.
For the record, Messier was playing right wing Thursday on a line with Darcy Hordichuk and Byron Ritchie.
"I'm OK whenever I'm playing," said Messier, 29. "Wherever they need me is fine with me.
"It's fun having to be ready to play any position and you never know when someone's going to get hurt."
For coach Mike Keenan, having Messier as a forward is a luxury. In the Panthers' first exhibition game, defenseman Jeff Paul injured his mouth in a fight. Down to five defensemen, Keenan immediately moved Messier to the blue line.
Keenan said Messier could split half the season at forward and defense, like Jimmy Roberts did for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960s.
"It's always nice to have that kind of flexibility," Keenan said. "Players like [Messier] are very, very valuable. You don't have many players that are capable of doing that."
Messier is a hard-working, gritty player. Up front, he's proven to be a tenacious forechecker and gutsy shot blocker.
"He's very respected by his teammates and dependable defensively," Keenan said. "He does a lot of subtle things on the ice that the average fan probably wouldn't appreciate."
In Saturday's final exhibition game, Messier had several blocked shots and helped pin Tampa Bay, who had an extra attacker, deep in its zone for the final 30 seconds.
Messier has always been considered an expert shot blocker. His secret?
"I close my eyes and hope for the best," he says, laughing.
Asked if he's ever gotten a serious injury, Messier said, "I'll touch some wood. Not yet.
"I'm lucky. It's hit my ribs a couple times, but bruises are part of the game."
Messier brings leadership and experience. On his right leg, he has a tattoo of the Avalanche logo inside the Stanley Cup, signifying the Cup he won with Colorado in 2001. He said a dozen teammates planned to get the tattoo, but only he and Jon Klemm went through with it.
"The others choked," Messier said.
"But guess what? I have room on my left leg," Messier said, referring to the Panthers.
Rookie Nathan Horton was supposed to wear No. 10, but he changed to No. 16 when he learned the player who previously wore 10 was superstar Pavel Bure.
"A little less pressure," Horton said of his new number. Incidentally, Horton, unaware that radio analyst Randy Moller used to wear 16 for the Panthers, made this comment as Moller stood in front of him.
Moller laughed and said, "Awfully big shoes to fill kid." Moller had three assists in 17 career games as a Panther.
"I'm still distraught the Panthers never retired that number," Moller quipped.
Bure in lineup
Right wing Valeri Bure, out for a week with a groin pull, was able to play. His brother, Pavel, out indefinitely with the Rangers because of a knee injury, attended the game.
Pavel Bure plans to spend a lot of time in South Florida rehabbing, although Valeri said, "You never know with him. One day he could be here. The next day he could be in Moscow." ... Ivan Novoseltsev, Pavel Trnka and Craig MacDonald were scratched. Email story
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