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Messier watches for Oilers arena, lockout news while growing hockey participation

Team Canada general manager Mark Messier watches the team practice Sunday May 9, 2010 at the IIHF world hockey championship in Mannheim, Germany. Head coach Mark Messier hopes to improve on the fourth-place finish posted by the Canadians last year at the Spengler Cup. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Jacques Boissinot

Mark Messier has had his eye on the news lately.

The Hall of Fame centre said Tuesday he's been monitoring the ongoing dispute between Oilers owner Daryl Katz and the City of Edmonton as well as the NHL's ongoing lockout.

Katz recently found himself in hot water after threatening to move the Oilers to Seattle when negotiations broke down with Edmonton's City Council over funding a new arena in the downtown core.

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Messier, who was available to media while promoting Bauer Hockey's new global iniative to increase participation in the sport, sympathized with the embattled Katz.

"It's a dream come true for him to be able to have the resources to own the team and what he's trying to do is quite remarkable in the area there, to sustain the team there for the next 20, 30 years," said Messier, an Edmonton native who won five Stanley Cups with the Oilers. "I think the communications are a little mixed up there and hopefully they get it straightened out and they move forward and get the new arena and revitalize the downtown area."

Katz apologized for meeting with officials in Seattle last week in full-page ads in Edmonton-area newspapers that ran Saturday and then gave a radio interview on Monday where he explained that he reacted emotionally to the frustrated negotiations with the City of Edmonton.

The Oilers owner added that "there was probably a little too much (bare-knuckled Mark) Messier and not enough (graceful Wayne) Gretzky in the way that we conveyed things."

For his part, Messier laughed off the analogy.

"I've said for years I wish I had more finesse like Gretzky," said Messier.

Messier, who is now the current special assistant to the president and general manager of the New York Rangers, has also been following the NHL's labour dispute.

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"I'm kind of on standby with everybody else, waiting for the people who are at the negotiation table to hopefully come up with some resolution," said Messier. "I think that will happen in the near future instead of waiting too long."

Gretzky, Messier's former teammate on the Oilers and Rangers, said in an interview Monday that he believes the lockout will be done by Jan. 1, in time for the annual outdoor Winter Classic.

Messier agrees that New Year's Day is an important milestone for the NHL.

"I think that, obviously, (Jan. 1) is a critical date for the game because that's kind of become our staple along with the Stanley Cup finals and the All-Star Game," he said. "Those are probably three of the events all year that everybody looks forward to, not only people in the game but the people outside the game."

Messier has teamed with Bauer Hockey to elevate safety education and awareness, while growing participation in the sport.

Bauer announced a 10-year program on Tuesday designed to research participation in hockey in an effort to understand what keeps young players out of the game.

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"We have a pilot program that we're kicking off with Hockey Canada in (Ontario and Nova Scotia) and we're going to do some research and find out not just what happens when families decide to join the game of hockey and whether they stay in it, that has been a primary focus previously, but to find out why families don't choose hockey, and see what corrective actions can be taken," said Kevin Davis, president and CEO of Bauer Performance Sports.

"One thing that we know for sure is that it's not a cookie-cutter approach.

"What works in one province may not work in another, what works in one country won't work in another, per se, but we're trying to find out what the best practices are what the needs are of those families and make sure they have some exposure to this great sport."

Bauer hopes to help add a million extra players to the sport – on top of current growth projections – by 2022.

That goal dovetails with the Messier Project, which seeks to educate players and parents about concussion safety.

"We're very excited to join Bauer and hear what their mission is in this area and I think, together, in a collaboration, we can make a strong team and we can tackle the problem," said Messier.

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