Messier Camp a thank-you for pair's hard work
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The third annual Mark Messier Leadership Camp was filled with big-name instructors, including Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Glenn Anderson, and of course, The Captain himself, Mark Messier.
|Camper John Murray competes in the Mark Messier Leadership Camp's annual Captain's Cup game at MSG. Murray shared the ice with several Rangers greats, including Adam Graves (left).|
Nominated by friends in the New York City Fire Department, Murray, a 45-year old hockey dad from Flushing, Queens, has had a rough go of it lately. His 9-year-old daughter, the youngest of three children, was recently diagnosed with leukemia and is currently undergoing treatment. Still, Murray remains active in the hockey community, coaching his son's team while cheering on each of his children.
The opportunity to attend the Mark Messier Leadership Camp couldn't have come at a better time.
"Some guys I used to play hockey with in the fire department submitted my name to Madison Square Garden, and I got a call from the Rangers that I was accepted into the program," Murray said. "I knew a little it about it from watching Rangers games, and when I got the invitation, I was a little numb!"
A deeply humbled Graves was equally moved by Murray's story, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet such a man.
"First and foremost, John is what a true hero is," said Graves, whose No. 9 will be raised to the MSG rafters next season. "He is a fireman in New York City, and is certainly a man who is first and foremost a father, a husband and a family man. I've had the opportunity to spend some time with him, and certainly at a time when it's great to be involved in sports and in hockey, for him to have not only himself but his family and his kids and wife come up to Tarrytown and enjoy and be a part of this great weekend, it's all very special. He is a very good man, and I very much enjoyed getting to meet him."
Murray was deeply touched by the entire occasion, and he fought back tears as he spoke about what he had just experienced after playing in the camp-ending Captain's Cup game.
"It's been incredible," he said after his squad, Team Messier, dropped a thrilling 6-5 overtime game in the Captain's Cup. "The generosity and courtesy that the Messier family extended towards everybody was just unbelievable. What a tremendous family, and what tremendous people there are in the Rangers organization. They were with us from the first moment throughout the whole four days, and they've had a tremendous effect on me, and my family. I was fortunate to meet all these tremendous athletes and get to know them a little bit, and they reinforced a lot of things that are really important in life. I think it's really helped change me, and my family, and to try to remember what's really important in life. It was an incredible experience being with these people."
Equally moved by the experience was DeSimone, another hockey dad with deep roots in the community. He is the East Section Girls/Women's Coordinator, as well as a coach of his daughter Rachel's hockey team and the head coach of Girls Empire State team for the New York City Region. DeSimone has also worked in the Ice Hockey in Harlem program as well as the Ace Bailey Children's Foundation Got Skills program.
Playing on a line with Messier, DeSimone said he got the thrill of a lifetime.
“When you are skating and turn around and see Mess at the point, or you're coming down on the right side and see Leetchie down there, it's at first quite overwhelming," he said. "But then you jump up from there and realize it's just a hockey game, and sometimes you get a break and you can chip the puck by them, but that's only for a second!”
DeSimone said the off-ice life lessons discussed at the camp impacted him the most.
"This whole experience has been tremendous," he said. "At first, I was a little hesitant to do it, thinking I didn't deserve to be here getting in that way. But apart from the hockey, the off-ice experience has been tremendous and the interaction with the pros, they were just genuine in every move they made, and I think there was a much bigger life lesson to be learned her than just hockey."
As was the case with Murray, meeting DeSimone touched Graves as well.
"Mark, just like John, is a fellow that makes a difference in the community," he said. "He coaches a couple of teams, is a guy that's always been dedicated to minor hockey and making a difference in kids lives."
Graves said that seeing how much this experience meant to both Murray and DeSimone reconfirmed his own commitment to community work.
"That's what this camp is all about," said Graves. "That is what the Rangers' programs are all about. That is what the Kids' Club is all about. It's interaction and reinforcing the important things and having fun with the game we all love. We share that passion."