NEW YORK (AP) - Mark Messier is leaving the New York Rangers after being passed over to replace fired head coach John Tortorella.
Messier, who had been a special assistant to Rangers general manager Glen Sather, announced Thursday in a statement that he is resigning in order to ``expand the game of hockey in the New York area by developing the Kingsbridge National Ice Center.''
However, he added that the Rangers' choice to hire veteran coach Alain Vigneault to be the new head coach wasn't a factor in his departure from the team.
``I would like to thank the New York Rangers and particularly Glen Sather for giving me the opportunity over the last four years to work with the Rangers,'' said Messier, who has no NHL coaching experience. ``Although some will perceive this as a reaction to the coaching decision, nothing could be further from the truth. 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.
``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. I wish the Rangers nothing but the best in the future.''
The Kingsbridge National Ice Center, proposed for the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, would be the largest ice sports facility in the world. The center would feature nine year-round indoor rinks, including a 5,000-seat center show rink, and would be an international sporting destination that expects to draw more than two million visits a year.
Messier and Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Sarah Hughes will lead educational and athletic programs, and first-time skaters will be able to participate, as well.
``We are proud to call Mark a partner in the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, and we welcome this decision,'' Kevin Parker, the founder of Kingsbridge National Ice Center Partners said in a statement. ``Mark is a legend in New York City, as well as the sport of hockey, and he will be an integral part of this project's success.
``The Kingsbridge National Ice Center will not only be a global center of ice sports, it will also create a world of opportunities for young people in New York.''
Messier, who captained the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup championship, hoped to lead the team again - this time from behind the bench - after Tortorella was dismissed. He interviewed with Sather for the position that eventually went to Vigneault, who was let go after the season by the Vancouver Canucks.
``Mark Messier will always be a part of the New York Rangers family,'' Sather said in a statement. ``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.''
Messier took his position as an assistant to Sather, who also serves as Rangers team president, in August 2009.
A 16-time NHL All-Star, Messier's crowning achievement with the Rangers came in 1994 when he led the team to its first Stanley Cup title in 54 years. He set a Rangers playoff record with 12 postseason goals, including the Cup winner in Game 7 of the finals against Vancouver.
Messier's No. 11 was retired by the Rangers in January 2006. The Hockey Hall of Famer ranks fifth on the team's scoring list with 691 points and seventh in goals with 250 of the 694 he scored in his career. He is second in career NHL points with 1,887 and seventh in goals.
In addition to the championship with the Rangers, Messier won the Stanley Cup five times with the Edmonton Oilers, where Sather served as coach and general manager.
Sather had a list of 13 potential coaching candidates that he cut down to nine. He interviewed Messier and Vigneault in person and decided to go with experience.
``It was a difficult decision,'' Sather said last week. ``We've both grown up with each other. At this stage, A.V. was the man. Mark has got to decide what he wants to do.''