Mario Lemieux

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Mario Lemieux
Hockey Hall of Fame, 1997
Mario Lemieux 2012-03-07 cropped.JPG
Lemieux in 2012
Born (1965-10-05) October 5, 1965 (age 55)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Height 6 ft 4 in (193 cm)
Weight 235 lb (107 kg; 16 st 11 lb)
Position Centre
Shot Right
Played for Pittsburgh Penguins
National teamFlag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada
NHL Draft 1st overall, 1984
Pittsburgh Penguins
Playing career 19841997
2000–2006

Mario Lemieux OC CQ ( /ləˈmj/ ; French:  [ləmjø] ; born October 5, 1965) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player. He played parts of 17 National Hockey League (NHL) seasons (his whole NHL career) with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1984 to 2006, assuming ownership in 1999. Nicknamed "The Magnificent One", "Le Magnifique" and "Super Mario" after the fictional character of the same name, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. [1] A gifted playmaker and fast skater despite his large size, Lemieux often beat defencemen with fakes and dekes. [2]

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Drafted first overall by the Penguins in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, Lemieux led Pittsburgh to consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. Under his ownership, the Penguins won additional titles in 2009, 2016, and 2017. He is the only man to have his name on the Cup both as a player and owner. [3] He also led Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002, a championship at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and a Canada Cup in 1987. He won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the most outstanding player voted by the players four times, the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player (MVP) during the regular season three times, the Art Ross Trophy as the league's points leader six times, and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP in 1991 and 1992. He is the only player to score one goal in each of the five possible situations in a single NHL game, a feat he accomplished in 1988. At the time of his retirement, he was the NHL's seventh-highest career points scorer with 690 goals and 1,033 assists. [4] He ranks second in NHL history with a 0.754 career goals-per-game average, behind only Mike Bossy (0.762). [5] He ranks second in NHL history with a 1.129 career assists-per-game average, behind only Wayne Gretzky (1.320). He also ranks second in NHL history with a 1.883 points-per-game average, behind only Wayne Gretzky (1.921).

Lemieux was never able to play a full season, and during his career he played in 70 or more games in a season on only six occasions. Lemieux's career was plagued by health problems that limited him to 915 of a possible 1,430 regular season games between the opening of the 1984–85 campaign and the final game of 2005–2006. Lemieux's NHL debut was on October 11, 1984 and his final game took place on December 16, 2005. [6] [7] His numerous ailments included spinal disc herniation, Hodgkin's lymphoma, chronic tendinitis of a hip-flexor muscle, and chronic back pain so severe that other people had to tie his skates. [8] He retired on two occasions due to these health issues, first in 1997 after battling lymphoma before returning in 2000, and then a second and final time in 2006 after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Lemieux also missed the entire 1994–95 season due to Hodgkin's lymphoma. [4] Despite his lengthy absences from the game, his play remained at a high level upon his return to the ice; he won the Hart Trophy and scoring title in 1995–96 after sitting out the entire previous season, and he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy when he made his comeback in 2000. [2] In 1999, he bought the then-bankrupt Penguins and their top minor-league affiliate, the American Hockey League's (AHL) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and is currently the team's principal owner and chairman.

The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Lemieux immediately after his first retirement in 1997, waiving the normal three-year waiting period; upon his return in 2000, he became the third Hall of Famer (after Gordie Howe and Guy Lafleur) to play after being inducted. [2] Lemieux's impact on the NHL has been significant: Andrew Conte of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called him the saviour of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and after Lemieux's retirement, Wayne Gretzky commented that "You don't replace players like Mario Lemieux ... The game will miss him." [9] Bobby Orr called him "the most talented player I've ever seen." Orr, along with Bryan Trottier and numerous fans, [4] speculated that if Lemieux had not suffered so many issues with his health, his on-ice achievements would have been much greater. [9] In 2017, he was named one of the "100 Greatest NHL Players". [10] In 2004, he was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

Early years

Lemieux was born in Montreal to Pierrette, a stay-at-home mom, and Jean-Guy Lemieux, an engineer. He and his older brothers Alain and Richard grew up in a working class family in the Ville-Émard district. He began playing hockey at age three in his basement; before using real equipment, he and his brothers used wooden kitchen spoons as hockey sticks and bottle caps as pucks. [11] His father created a rink on the front lawn so that the boys could practice as much as possible, [12] and according to family legend, the family sometimes packed snow onto the living room carpet so the brothers could practice indoors when it was dark. [13]

The young Lemieux was a teammate to future NHLers Marc Bergevin and J. J. Daigneault on the same minor ice hockey team from Ville-Émard. [14] Lemieux and Daigneault played together with RJ Donnelly and Gail Swann in the 1977 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. Cornish and Swann also competing in the 1978 tournament. [15]

Lemieux playing for the Laval Voisins of the QMJHL in 1984 Mario Lemieux 1984.jpg
Lemieux playing for the Laval Voisins of the QMJHL in 1984

Lemieux started his career with the Laval Voisins of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). When he was drafted at age 15, he declared that he would break league records. [13] He made the request to coach Jean Bégin to play on a forward line with Jacques Goyette during the 1983–84 QMJHL season. [16] The combination was successful, as Lemieux broke the league record for points in a season with 282 (133 goals, 149 assists) in 70 games. [17] In his last game of the regular season, Lemieux needed three goals to tie Guy Lafleur's record of 130 goals; he scored six goals and added six assists in a 16–4 victory. [2] During the playoffs, he scored 29 goals and earned 52 points in 14 games, and led his team to a berth at the 1984 Memorial Cup. [18] His appearance at the Canadian junior ice hockey national championship was highly anticipated, but Lemieux was held to only two goals and three assists as the Laval Voisins lost all three games. [19]

Although he played in the 1983 World Junior Hockey Championships, Lemieux did not play for the Canadian Juniors in 1984 because he disliked how coach Dave King treated him in the previous tournament. [20] He also did not want to break up his junior season. [11] He finished his QMJHL career with 562 points (247 goals, 315 assists) in three seasons. Before the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, Lemieux announced that he wanted to play for whoever drafted him. [11] He and his agent were deadlocked with the Pittsburgh Penguins and could not negotiate a contract. Because of this, when the Penguins called his name as the first overall draft pick, he did not shake general manager Eddie Johnston's hand or don the Penguins jersey, which is NHL tradition. He claimed he was upset about the contract negotiation, and said that "Pittsburgh doesn't want [him] bad enough." [11] Even though the draft was held in Montreal, over 3,000 fans viewed a broadcast in Pittsburgh's Civic Arena—a typical Penguins game drew fewer than 7,000 fans at the time. [11] After the draft, Johnston signed Lemieux to a two-year contract for $600,000, plus a $150,000 bonus for signing. [11]

Playing career

1984–1988: Early career

At the start of Lemieux's career, the Penguins were in financial turmoil and there were rumors of relocation. The team had declared bankruptcy after the 1974–75 season, and by 1983, they were averaging fewer than 7,000 fans per game—less than half of the Civic Arena's capacity. [11] They had not made the playoffs since 1982, and had not had a winning season since 1979.

He debuted on October 11, 1984 against the Boston Bruins, and on his first shift, he stole the puck from Hall of Fame defenceman Ray Bourque and scored a goal with his first NHL shot against Pete Peeters. [21] Later that season, Lemieux played in the NHL All-Star Game and became the first rookie to be named the All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player. Despite missing seven games during the season, Lemieux scored 100 points and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the rookie of the year.

The next season, Lemieux finished second in league scoring with 141 points, behind Wayne Gretzky's NHL-record 215 points. He won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the NHL's best regular-season player as voted by his peers. Lemieux missed 17 games of the 1986–87 NHL season—his point production slipped, and the Penguins once again failed to make the playoffs. However, he played in the Canada Cup during the summer of 1987 and set a tournament record 11 goals in 9 games; his last goal, which clinched the Canadian victory, broke a tie with the Soviet team with 1:26 remaining in the third period. Lemieux cited his Canada Cup experience as the reason for his elevated play later on, stating, "Remember, I was only 21 years old at the time. To be around guys like Wayne [Gretzky] and Mark Messier and Paul Coffey ... was a tremendous learning experience." [22]

By the 1987–88 season, Wayne Gretzky already won seven consecutive Art Ross Trophies for leading the league in points. That season, fuelled by his Canada Cup experience, [22] Lemieux scored 168 points and won his first NHL scoring title. He also won his first Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player to his team, and the All-Star Game MVP award after a record-setting six-point game. Despite Lemieux's success, the Penguins finished one point out of the playoffs. They did, however, have their first winning record in nine years.

1988–1992: 199 points

In the 1988–89 season, Lemieux led the league with 114 assists (tied with Gretzky) and 85 goals for 199 points; he is the only player to approach Gretzky's mammoth 200+ point seasons. [23] Lemieux finished the season a close second to Gretzky in voting for the Hart Trophy, and set several milestones and records in the process, becoming the second player to score 70+ goals in two seasons, the fourth player to score 50 goals in 50 games, and the only player to score 13 shorthanded goals in one season. [24] Buoyed in part by Lemieux' performance, the Penguins made the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Perhaps the defining moment of Lemieux's season was on December 31, 1988 in a game against the New Jersey Devils. [23] In that game, Lemieux scored eight points and became the only player in NHL history to score a goal in all five possible game situations in the same game: even-strength, power-play, shorthanded, penalty shot, and empty-net. [25] Lemieux had another five-goal, eight-point performance in a 10–7 victory during the postseason against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 25, 1989. He tied the NHL record for most goals and points in a postseason game, most goals in a postseason period (four in the first), and most assists in a postseason period (three in the second). [26] However, the Penguins lost the series 4–3.

During the 1989–90 NHL season, Lemieux scored at least one point in 46 consecutive games before he ended the streak by leaving a game due to injury. [27] The streak's length was second only to Gretzky's 51-game streak. [28] Lemieux won his third All-Star Game MVP with a four-goal performance. [29] Although he missed 21 games, he finished fourth in the league in scoring with 123 points (45 goals, 78 assists). [24] The Penguins did not qualify for the playoffs.

Lemieux's back injury progressed into a herniated disc, which subsequently developed an infection. On July 11, 1990, Lemieux underwent back surgery to fix the disk, and he missed 50 games in the 1990–91 NHL season. In his absence, the Penguins acquired players Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Ron Francis, and Ulf Samuelsson in hopes of becoming serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. Despite significant back pain, Lemieux scored 16 goals and 28 assists for the playoff lead, and led the Penguins over the Minnesota North Stars for their first Stanley Cup. [24] Lemieux won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player. His 44 playoff points rank second only to Wayne Gretzky's 47 in 1984–85.

One of the most famous goals in NHL history is the goal Lemieux scored in the second period of game two. Receiving the puck between the Penguins' blue line and the centre line, Lemieux skated solo into the North Stars zone facing two defencemen and the goalie by himself. Lemieux skirted the puck through one of the defenders' (Shawn Chambers) legs, skated around him, forced the goaltender to commit left, then switched the puck to his backhand side and sliding the puck in before crashing into the net himself. The brief video of the goal has been since featured on recent[ when? ] Stanley Cup promo ads by the NHL (played in reverse), as well as the opening montage of Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts.[ citation needed ]

Lemieux played only 64 games in his injury-plagued 1991–92 season. Despite missing several games, he won his third Art Ross Trophy with 131 points. During the second game of the Patrick Division finals, the New York Rangers' Adam Graves slashed and broke Lemieux's left hand; Lemieux missed five games, but still led the playoffs with 16 goals and 18 assists. [24] The Penguins swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals, and Lemieux won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second consecutive postseason. Lemieux racked up an astonishing 78 combined points during the 1991 and 1992 playoffs, a two-year total second only to Gretzky's 82 points as his Oilers won their first and second Stanley Cup titles in 1984 and 1985. [30]

1992–1997: Cancer, return, and retirement

Lemieux in 1992 Mario Lemieux 1992.jpg
Lemieux in 1992

The Penguins started the 1992–93 season well, and Lemieux set a franchise record with at least one goal in twelve consecutive games, from October 6 to November 1. [31] He was on pace to challenge Gretzky's records of 92 goals in one season (1981–82) and 215 points in one season (1985–86), [32] until January 12, 1993, when he made the shocking announcement that he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was forced to undergo energy-draining aggressive radiation treatments, leaving his career and possibly his survival in doubt. He missed two months of play, and without him, the Penguins struggled. When he returned, he was 12 points behind Buffalo's Pat LaFontaine in the scoring race. [32]

On the day of his last radiation treatment, Lemieux flew to Philadelphia to play against the Flyers, where he scored a goal and an assist in a 5–4 loss. Before the game Lemieux earned a standing ovation from Philadelphia fans—a rare occurrence for any visiting player, much less a Pittsburgh athlete. [32] With Lemieux back, Pittsburgh won an NHL record 17 consecutive games to finish first overall for the first time in franchise history; [32] their 119 points are still a franchise record. Lemieux scored at an incredible pace, notching an average 2.67 points per game—the third-highest points-per-game for a season, behind only Wayne Gretzky's 1983–84 and 1985–86 averages of 2.77 and 2.69, respectively. [32] This pace for an entire season would have put him well over 200 points. Lemieux won his second straight and fourth overall scoring title, finishing with 160 points (69 goals, 91 assists) in 60 games, beating out LaFontaine by 12 points. [24] even though LaFontaine played in 24 more games. Throughout the season, Lemieux scored at least one point in 54 of his 60 games played. [33]

Notwithstanding Gretzky's abiding majesty, posterity will never forget that no athlete—not even the sainted Lou Gehrig—has ever before Lemieux been struck down by a deadly disease at the very moment when he was the best of his sport at the best he ever would be. And since: Lemieux has achieved miraculously in remission, struggling, on the side, with a back injury so grievous that it has benched him after he merely laced up a skate. That is the stuff that answers people these days when they wonder where all our sports heroes have gone.

Frank Deford, Newsweek [34]

The Penguins dispatched the New Jersey Devils in the first round in five games, but were upset by the New York Islanders in seven. During the series against the Islanders, Lemieux was repeatedly knocked out of his game by Darius Kasparaitis. After the season, Lemieux was awarded his second Pearson Trophy, and his first Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. [24]

On July 23, 1993, Lemieux underwent his second back surgery, only this time to repair a herniated muscle. He missed the first ten games of the season to recover from surgery, and missed 48 more games from back problems. [24] After the season, he announced that he would take a leave of absence because of fatigue brought on by his radiation treatment. [24] Lemieux returned for the 1995–96 season, and on October 26, 1995, he scored his 500th career goal in his 605th game, played against the New York Islanders. Lemieux was second only to Gretzky, who scored 500 goals in 575 games. [24] Lemieux finished the season with 69 goals and 92 assists to lead the league; he became the seventh player to win three Hart Trophies, and the fourth player to win five Art Ross Trophies. [24] Despite his return, the Penguins fell to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games.

The next season, Lemieux, playing against the Vancouver Canucks, scored his 600th career goal in his 719th game, and went on to put up his tenth career 100-point season, both the second-most in history after Wayne Gretzky's 600 goals in 718 games and fifteen 100-point seasons. [24] In his last game against his hometown Montreal, Lemieux tied an NHL record for most goals in a period, with four goals in the third. [35] Lemieux won his sixth scoring title with 122 points (50 goals, 72 assists). On April 6, 1997, Lemieux announced that he planned to retire following the playoffs. The Penguins were eliminated in five games by the Eric Lindros-led Philadelphia Flyers during the first round. Lemieux scored one goal and earned an assist in his final game. Despite the typically hostile Philadelphia crowd, Lemieux skated around the ice following the final horn and received a standing ovation from the fans in attendance. [24] Upon his first retirement, Lemieux became the only player to retire from the NHL with a greater than 2 points per game average (1494 points in 745 games). On November 17, 1997, Lemieux was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, becoming the ninth player in history to have the mandatory three-year waiting period waived.

1997–2000: Post-retirement

The Penguins' free-spending ways of the early 1990s came at a high price. Through most of the 1990s, Penguins' owners Howard Baldwin and Morris Belzberg mismanaged the team, owing over $90 million to various creditors. As a consequence, the Penguins asked Lemieux and other prominent players to defer their salaries. The team was also forced to make several trades to stop the bleeding, most of which backfired.

The situation became so dire that the Penguins were forced to declare bankruptcy in November 1998. For most of the 1998–99 NHL season, it looked like the Penguins would either move out of town or fold altogether. At this point, Lemieux stepped in with an unusual proposal to buy the team. Years of deferred salaries, adding up to $32.5 million, had made him the Penguins' largest creditor. He proposed to convert $20 million of his deferred salary into equity, with another $5 million in cash, enough to give him controlling interest. [36] He also promised to keep the team in Pittsburgh. The U.S. bankruptcy court gave preliminary approval to Lemieux's bid on June 24 [37] Lemieux later said that he would have put in a bid even if he had not been owed the deferred salary. The NHL's Board of Governors approved his application for ownership on September 1, 1999. [38] Two days later, after Lemieux cut a deal with Fox Sports Pittsburgh (the Penguins' TV broadcaster) and Spectacor Management Group (which operated the Civic Arena), the court gave final approval to Lemieux's reorganization plan, allowing him to formally assume control. [37] This made the then-retired star the first former NHL player to become majority owner of his former team. Lemieux assumed the posts of president, chairman and CEO of the Penguins.

Lemieux's plan was designed to pay everyone the organization owed. In fact, the bankruptcy court approved his bid in part because of the prospect that the debt would be fully retired—a rare feat, considering that unsecured creditors typically get only pennies on the dollar. In his first season as principal owner Pittsburgh went from a loss of $16 million from the previous season into a small profit of $47,000. [36] Ticket sales increased after Lemieux's takeover and even more after his comeback in 2000, also improving team finances. [36] In August 2005, the Post-Gazette reported that the Penguins had indeed fully paid the principal it owed to each of its creditors, both secured and unsecured. Lemieux was given much of the credit, according to the article, for his insistence that everyone owed be paid. [37] He has since relinquished the president's and CEO's posts to Ken Sawyer, but remains the team's principal owner and chairman. In January 2006, Lemieux confirmed the team was for sale, but would consider offers only from those who will keep the team in Pittsburgh.

2000–2006: Out of retirement

Lemieux in 2001 Mario Lemieux 2001.jpg
Lemieux in 2001

Late in 2000, there were rumours that Lemieux was attempting a comeback. Upon announcing his comeback, Lemieux also signed a "career spanning deal" with Nike to wear their equipment on the ice, and to endorse their products off the ice. This deal would include Lemieux endorsing their line of footwear and their golf equipment. It is said that the deal was worth $500,000 (US) a season and would remain in effect for the rest of his career. [39] At the press conference confirming his return, Lemieux indicated part of his reason was that his only son Austin, then four, wanted to see his father play. [36]

On December 27, 2000, he returned to the NHL against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game was nationally broadcast on ESPN2 in the US and on Hockey Night in Canada . Lemieux proved that his scoring touch had not disappeared by scoring a goal and three points, including an assist 33 seconds into the first shift of his return. [36] While Jaromír Jágr remained captain of the Penguins, Lemieux was named captain of the North American All-Stars during the midseason All-Star game in Denver, Colorado. Despite playing in only 43 games in 2000–01, Lemieux scored 76 points to finish 26th in scoring, finishing the season with the highest points-per-game average that season among NHL players. In fact, he had the highest points-per-game average amongst NHL players for the entire period from his 2001 return until his final retirement in 2006. Lemieux was one of the three finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy and Lester B. Pearson NHLPA awards and earned a selection on the postseason NHL All-Star Second Team.

Lemieux led the Penguins in the postseason and led in playoff scoring for much of it. His team surprised many by going to the Eastern Conference finals, knocking off the higher-seeded Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres along the way in six and seven games, respectively. The Penguins lost in five games to the top-seeded New Jersey Devils, as their players held Lemieux and Jágr without a goal that series. Lemieux finished Game Five in the penalty box after slashing the Devils' John Madden; afterwards Lemieux signed his stick and handed it to a young fan. [40]

Before the start of the 2001–02 season, Pittsburgh was forced to trade most of their expensive players, so the team plummeted to the bottom of the NHL and missed the playoffs in each of the next four seasons. Lemieux again resumed the captaincy, as Jaromír Jágr was sent to the Washington Capitals. However, Lemieux only appeared in 24 games, partially due to injuries that would also plague him for the next three seasons. He also skipped some Penguins games in 2001–02 so he could be in condition to play what would be his only chance at the Olympics in his career. However, Lemieux played only one more game after the Salt Lake City Olympics before being out for the rest of the season due to a nagging hip problem, leading one Pittsburgh columnist to demand that Lemieux apologize for making Team Canada his priority. [41]

Radio show host Mark Madden said he would donate $6,600 to the Mario Lemieux Foundation if the hockey great ever scored off a faceoff. On December 23, 2002, the Penguins played the Buffalo Sabres in Pittsburgh and Lemieux, who was aware of the challenge, made good on it when he scored the game-winning goal right off a faceoff during the third period. [42]

In 2002–03, at the age of 37, Lemieux led the NHL in scoring for most of the season but missed most of the games towards the end of the schedule and finished eighth in scoring with 91 points in only 67 games. Lemieux missed all but ten games during the 2003–04 season.

Lemieux in 2005, during his final season Mario Lemieux 2005.jpg
Lemieux in 2005, during his final season

After the lock-out concluded, Lemieux returned to the ice for the 2005–06 season. Hopes for the Penguins were high due to the salary cap and revenue sharing, which enabled the team to compete in the market for several star players. Another reason for optimism was the Penguins winning the lottery for the first draft pick, enabling them to select Sidney Crosby. Lemieux opened up his home to Crosby to help the rookie settle in Pittsburgh, and served as Crosby's mentor. [43]

Player/owner status

Lemieux's unique status as player and owner placed him in a potential conflict of interest with respect to NHL labour negotiations. Because he was also an owner, Lemieux was no longer a member of the National Hockey League Players Association, although he still paid union dues to maintain his pension. By agreement with the NHLPA, Lemieux was paid the average league salary of about $1.4 million and it was from this amount that his union dues were calculated and deducted. He did not vote in owners' meetings, delegating this role to a Penguins vice-president. He suggested that the NHL adopt a salary structure similar to the National Football League, which has a hard salary cap. Lemieux and fellow NHL team executive Gretzky brought the parties together in a last-ditch effort to save what remained of the 2004–05 season, but no agreement was reached and the season was lost.[ citation needed ]

Post-playing career

On January 24, 2006, Lemieux announced his second and permanent retirement from professional hockey at the age of 40. This followed a half-season in which he struggled not only with the increased speed of the "new NHL" but also with atrial fibrillation, which caused him to experience irregular heartbeats. Although he had put up points at a pace that most NHL forwards would be very content with (22 points in 26 games) in his last season, Lemieux still remarked that "I can no longer play at a level I was accustomed to in the past." [44]

Lemieux seated next to Ronald Burkle during the 2009 Stanley Cup victory parade MarioLemiux-2009Parade.jpg
Lemieux seated next to Ronald Burkle during the 2009 Stanley Cup victory parade

In October 2006, Lemieux's ownership group announced that it had reached an agreement to sell the Penguins to Research In Motion Chairman and Co-CEO Jim Balsillie. However, Balsillie unexpectedly rescinded his offer two months later after an apparent dispute with the NHL Board of Governors over purchasing conditions, despite Balsillie having earlier pledged to the Board that he would not relocate the team. [45] [46] Lemieux was offended that Balsillie had pulled out at last minute and initially refused to return Balsillie's deposit, saying that it was in breach of their agreement. [47]

On March 13, 2007, Lemieux's ownership group announced a final agreement for a new multi-purpose arena, eventually to be named Consol Energy Center, to be built across the street from Mellon Arena. The deal keeps the Penguins in Pittsburgh for at least 30 years. Lemieux was instrumental in negotiating this deal, despite outside efforts to move the team to Kansas City. It was later revealed that Lemieux did visit Kansas City only to put pressure on the city and state to push through plans for the new arena. [48]

The Penguins returned to the playoffs, losing in five games to the Ottawa Senators in 2007, and making the Finals in 2008 where they lost in six games to the Detroit Red Wings. On June 12, 2009, Lemieux won his third Stanley Cup title, this time as an owner as the Penguins won a rematch with the Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, in seven games. [49] In 2015, Lemieux and Ron Burkle hired Morgan Stanley to explore the possibility of selling the Penguins. On June 12, 2016, the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, in six games, to give Lemieux his fourth Stanley Cup, his second as an owner. [50] Almost exactly a year later, on June 11, 2017, Lemieux won his third Stanley Cup as an owner upon the Penguins six-game defeat of the Nashville Predators.

International play

Medal record
Representing Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada
Men's Ice hockey
World Cup
Gold medal icon (G initial).svg 2004 World Cup
Olympic Games
Gold medal icon (G initial).svg 2002 Salt Lake City
Canada Cup
Gold medal icon (G initial).svg 1987 Canada
World Championships
Silver medal icon (S initial).svg 1985 Czechoslovakia
World Junior Championships
Bronze medal icon (B initial).svg 1983 Soviet Union

Lemieux played for Canada in the 1983 World Junior Championships (bronze medal), 1985 World Championships (silver medal), 1987 Canada Cup (championship), 2002 Winter Olympics (captain, gold medal) and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey (captain, championship).

At the 2002 Winter Olympics, having been selected by Gretzky to captain the roster, the then-36-year-old Lemieux led the Canadian men's team into Salt Lake City, United States. The team had failed to win a gold medal at the Olympics in fifty years but were still considered favourites to win. Lemieux was second to Joe Sakic in team scoring with six points in five games, and led the team to gold by defeating the United States 5–2 in the final game. Lemieux showcased his amazing hockey intelligence during the gold medal game against the United States. With Team Canada trailing 1–0 in the first period, Lemieux made one of the most famous and savvy plays in Olympic hockey history. After a cross-ice pass from Lemieux in the neutral zone, Canadian defenceman Chris Pronger carried the puck across the blue line into the American zone, and fired a pass across the zone. Lemieux then faked like he was receiving the pass and proceeded to take a shot at the net, all while letting the puck slide through his legs, knowing he had forward Paul Kariya streaking behind him. Lemieux's fake caused American goalie Mike Richter to lunge in Lemieux's direction, and thus created a wide-open net for Kariya to fire the puck in, as he received the pass from Pronger after Lemieux let it go to Kariya. During the tournament, his hip injury required several painkilling injections to keep him on the ice, and he only played one more NHL game after the Olympics before being lost for the season. [41]

He would then play in his final international event, once again captaining Team Canada to victory in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, where he'd be Team Canada's 4th leading scorer, despite being 38 years old, having injuries, and playing in just 10 NHL games that year. Lemieux was also selected by team Canada for the 2006 Winter Olympics, but declined due to health. [51]

Personal life

The youngest of three sons of Jean-Guy and Pierrette Lemieux, he was raised by his stay-at-home mother, and his father, who was a construction worker.

Early in his career, Lemieux smoked, at one point consuming a pack of cigarettes daily. [52] He gave up the habit, perhaps due to Hodgkin's Disease. [53]

Mario Lemieux married Nathalie Asselin on June 26, 1993. They have four children: Lauren (born April 1993), [54] Stephanie (born 1995), [55] Austin Nicholas (born 1996) [56] and Alexa (born 1997). [57] Austin was born prematurely, weighing just two pounds, five ounces, [36] but he is perfectly healthy today, and plays college hockey for Arizona State University. [58] The family lives in the affluent Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley. Lemieux also had a second home in Quebec near Mont Tremblant which was built starting in 2009, costs US$20 million, and came to be known as the Chateau Fleur de Lys; he put the house up for sale in 2018. [59]

Lemieux has opened his home to young Penguins stars such as Marc-André Fleury and Sidney Crosby until they settled into the Pittsburgh area, as he did with Jaromír Jágr following the 1990 NHL Draft when he lived in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He is a naturalized American citizen, [60] and on March 30, 2007, Lemieux, a registered Republican, [61] contributed $2,300 to Democratic US Senator Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign fund. In the past, he has also made contributions to the re-election fund of Republican former US Senator Rick Santorum.

On June 17, 2009, Lemieux was made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec by then-Quebec Premier Jean Charest. [62]

On September 3, 2010, Lemieux was made an Officer of the Order of Canada from then-Governor-General Michaëlle Jean. [63] [64]

Charitable causes

He created the Mario Lemieux Foundation during the same year he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma (1993) to fund medical research projects. Additionally, the foundation supports other organizations, including the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Leukemia Society, the Lupus Foundation and the Children's Home of Pittsburgh. In 2007, he was among the well-known athletes who founded Athletes for Hope, a charitable organization which helps professional athletes get involved in charitable causes and inspires non-athletes to volunteer and support the community. [65]

With their son, Austin, being born prematurely in 1996, the Lemieux family spent quite a bit of time in the hospital with Austin, including 71 days after his birth. [36] The family found that the older children didn't have a place to play in the hospital. Using the Lemieux Foundation resources, driven by Nathalie's idea and vision, founded a program called "Austin's Playroom Project". [66] The project builds play rooms in various hospitals across the US to give both children who are patients and their healthy siblings a place to play and "be kids" and concentrate on being normal and healing. On 31 January 2014, the foundation announced the opening of the twenty-ninth Austin's Playroom at the new Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, Camp Pendleton, California. [67]

Legacy

Lemieux exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame Mario Lemieux HHOF.jpg
Lemieux exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame

A statue in his honour, created by sculptor Bruce Wolfe, was erected in Pittsburgh on March 7, 2012 outside the Consol Energy Center. [68] The statue is modelled after a play in a 1988 game against the New York Islanders where Lemieux slipped in between Islanders defencemen Rich Pilon and Jeff Norton to score a goal in a 5–3 Penguins victory. [69] Both Pilon and Norton (the latter of which would later play for the Penguins during Lemieux's comeback season), as well as the Islanders, are unbranded on their portion of the statue.

In 1992, local confectioner D. L. Clark Company produced a Mario Bar, modelled on the caramel Bun Bar, featuring his image on the packaging and including collectors' trading cards. [70] [71]

NHL records

Shared NHL records

All-Star Game

Playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins records

Career statistics

Regular season and playoffs

Bold indicates led league

   Regular season   Playoffs
Season TeamLeagueGP G A Pts PIM GPGAPtsPIM
1980–81Montreal-ConcordiaQMAAA47626212412732578
1981–82 Laval Voisins QMJHL 6430669622
1982–83 Laval VoisinsQMJHL6684100184761214183218
1983–84 Laval VoisinsQMJHL70133149282971429235229
1983–84 Laval Voisins MC 31230
1984–85 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 73435710054
1985–86 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL79489314143
1986–87 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL63545310757
1987–88 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL77709816892
1988–89 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL7685114199100111271916
1989–90 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL59457812378
1990–91*Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL26192645302316284416
1991–92*Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL64448713194151618342
1992–93 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL60699116038118101810
1993–94 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL221720373264372
1995–96 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL706992161541811162733
1996–97 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL7650721226553364
2000–01 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL433541761818611174
2001–02 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL246253114
2002–03 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL6728639143
2003–04 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL101896
2005–06 Pittsburgh PenguinsNHL267152216
QMJHL totals2002473155621902643418447
NHL totals9156901,0331,723834107769617287

* Stanley Cup Champion.

International

YearTeamEventResult GPGAPtsPIM
1983 Canada WJC Bronze medal icon.svg7551012
1985 Canada WC Silver medal icon.svg946102
1987 Canada CC Gold medal icon.svg9117188
2002 Canada OLY Gold medal icon.svg52460
2004 Canada WCH Gold medal icon.svg61452
Junior totals7551012
Senior totals2918213912

NHL All-Star Games

YearLocationGAP
1985 Calgary 213
1986 Hartford 000
1988 St. Louis 336
1989 Edmonton 011
1990 Pittsburgh 404
1992 Philadelphia 011
1996 Boston 022
1997 San Jose 213
2001 Denver 112
2002 Los Angeles 101
10 All-Star Games131023

Awards

NHL

Lemieux holding the Stanley Cup in Nashville, 2017. Mario Lemieux 2017-06-11 1.jpg
Lemieux holding the Stanley Cup in Nashville, 2017.
National Hockey League
AwardYear
Hockey Hall of Fame 1997
Stanley Cup 1991, 1992, *2009, *2016, *2017
Conn Smythe Trophy 1991, 1992
Art Ross Trophy 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997
Ted Lindsay Award 1986, 1988, 1993, 1996
Hart Memorial Trophy 1988, 1993, 1996
NHL All-Star Game MVP 1985, 1988, 1990
NHL All-Star Game 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003
NHL First All-Star Team 1988, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1997
NHL Second All-Star Team 1986, 1987, 1992, 2001
NHL All-Rookie Team 1985
Calder Memorial Trophy 1985
NHL Plus/Minus Award 1993
Lester Patrick Trophy 2000
Bill Masterton Trophy 1993

* Stanley cup champion as an owner.

International

International
AwardYear
Canada Cup Gold medal icon.svg 1987
Winter Olympic Games Gold medal icon.svg 2002
World Cup of Hockey Gold medal icon.svg 2004

Other awards

Other awards
Lemieux's star on Canada's Walk of Fame Mario Lemieux star on Walk of Fame.jpg
Lemieux's star on Canada's Walk of Fame

Cultural references

Celebrity golf

Lemieux has competed at the American Century Championship, an annual competition to determine the best golfers among American sports and entertainment celebrities. He won the tournament in 1998 and has two top-ten finishes. It was this year when he shot a 3-under 69 to earn him the ACC trophy. [76] The tournament, televised by NBC in July, is played at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. [77]

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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The 1995–96 Pittsburgh Penguins season saw the return of Mario Lemieux after missing an entire season due to injuries. The Penguins improved to first in the Northeast Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference. In the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins progressed to the Conference Finals before losing to the Florida Panthers.

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