As Tim Speltz puts it, the Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans aren’t exactly on each other’s speed dial.
Nevertheless, Chiefs general manager Speltz and Tri-City GM Bob Tory found one another talking on the phone before the Western Hockey League’s Jan. 10 trade deadline.
Speltz said the discussion between archrivals had focused on different players when the GMs did a 180-degree turn and came up with the first trade Tory had made with Spokane during his 13 years in Kennewick: the Chiefs’ Jackson Playfair for Marcus Messier.
“It’s not like the intention of the phone call was to call Bob Tory and, ‘We’re going to make a trade today,’ but it did work out and it’s a good opportunity for both players,” Speltz said.
Messier, in the middle of his fourth season with the Americans, was caught off guard about the destination more than the deal.
“I was 19 years old on a team that was struggling,” Messier said. “I was more surprised at the team I went to, because (Spokane and Tri-City) don’t make deals ever. … I didn’t know it was an option.”
Luckily for Messier, he had a couple of connections in Spokane. The Americans drafted Messier when Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur was coaching Tri-City. Also, Messier and Chiefs right wing Connor Chartier played peewee hockey together and have been friends for years.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a little different,” Messier said. “I think walking into the (home) dressing room was, ‘Where am I going?’ … These are the guys I battled with, but they’re all mature and good guys and put it behind them.”
Messier said he brings to the Chiefs a “smart, shut-down game” and a knack for the penalty kill.
“You start to realize it’s not all about strength,” Messier said. “You can be sneaky. I do all right on faceoffs and they must be happy with what I can do.”
The Americans were bogged down with their worst record during the Messier years when the trade occurred. He moved from a team trying to hold on to the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot to one in contention for a top-four spot and home-ice advantage in the first round.
Messier played for two-plus seasons in Kennewick with his brother Jordan, who was traded to Moose Jaw last season as a 20-year-old. Jordan now plays for the University of Calgary.
Marcus’ second cousin is NHL Hall of Famer Mark Messier, who played for six Stanley Cup-champion teams, including five in Edmonton.
“Sometimes it’s tough to have that shadow over you, but he was a great player and a great guy,” Marcus said.
Marcus’ father, Mitch, played 20 games with the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars before his career was derailed by a horrific car accident near Canmore, Alberta, in August 1996 that left two passengers dead. Marcus was 2 at the time.
Mitch, who barely survived the wreck, runs a hockey school these days in Canmore.
“He doesn’t move around the fastest, but he’s doing pretty good,” Marcus said.
Marcus’ mother Lisa lives in Calgary, Alberta.