ADIEU TO LEMIEUX
The Pittsburgh Penguins owner-player retires from playing at the professional level
By Mark Weisenmiller
Long-time Pittsburgh Penguin Mario Lemieux announced his retirement as an National Hockey League (NHL) player at a January 24th press conference. Lemiuex, 40, was flanked by wife Nathalie and their children as Lemieux bid adieu to his NHL playing days at a press conference held in Mellon Arena, the Penguins home rink.
Lemieux told reporters that his heart condition — a form of atrial fibrillation, in which the heartbeat sometimes undergoes a quivering movement — was the cause of his retirement. He had a mild AF attack on the evening before the press conference, which made Lemieux make his decision. He stated that he will have heart surgery to correct the AF in the near future.
As Lemieux is the Penguins owner, he is now expected to devote his time and energy to helping keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh . The Penguins upper-management personnel and Allegheny County (seat of Pittsburgh ) politicians have recently had strong disagreements as to whether or not to build a new arena for the Penguins. Lemieux has often told hockey writers that he wants to do everything that he can to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh but if no agreement can be reached to build a new arena, then the Penguins will probably have to relocate. Leading American cities that are trying to attract the Penguins are Houston and Kansas City .
Some people are doomed by fate, or Providence , or God, or whatever you believe in, as forever being second in life. Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson twice lost elections to Republican Dwight Eisenhower. Acclaimed movie director Martin Scorcese has spent much of his career being runner-up for Best Director Oscars.
Such was the fate of Mario Lemieux. He was born on October 5, 1965 , in a suburb of Montreal , and the poor guy can't even say that he was the most influential NHL player born on that month, day, and year. That title would have to be given to goalie god Patrick Roy, who was born the same day, about 150 miles away from Mario's birthplace.
Lemieux's family quickly discovered his unique hockey talents; older brothers Alain and Richard introduced him to the sport. By age four, Mario could already skate, stickhandle the puck with aplomb, and score goals galore. By eight, he added a booming slap shot to his repertoire.
Because he had gifted hockey talents as a youngster, he had few friends. In hockey-mad Canada , no neighborhood boys wanted to play with Mario because he was such a dominating hockey player. So he became somewhat of a recluse, preferring the company of his family, and this may have been when he developed his shyness, quiet voice, and devotion to family. Even in adulthood, for a man who is 6' 4" and 235 lbs., Lemieux has an uncharacteristically soft voice; one rarely ever hears of incidents of him yelling. Regarding family life, he is quite devoted to his wife and family and contrary to athletes in other sports, Lemieux's name is never affiliated with the type of sordid romantic trysts which fill the pages of some publications.
About being second: Lemieux maybe forever labelled as the second-greatest NHL scoring forward of all time. Wayne Gretzky, of course, is Numero Uno. Yet in the "go-go-go" type of NHL play that was played in the 1980's and 1990's, the two men changed the concept of a typical NHL big-time scorer. With Gretzky, it was his strange sixth sense as to always knowing where both the puck and his team-mates would be that made him the all-time NHL leader in goals, assists, and total points.
With Lemieux, he was the rare epitome of grace and toughness. A strong skater, he also had strong wrists to flick pucks past goalies. What really separates him from Gretzky, however, was the fact that Mario was an excellent two-way player. Early in his career Lemieux concentrated solely on goal-scoring and Mario's defensive play was, to be polite, sub-par. Yet he put in long hours in practice to improving his defensive skills and it is inconceivable that the Pittsburgh Penguins could have won consecutive Stanley Cups (in 1991 and 1992) without Lemieux's solid defensive play. However, the main reason why he won consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies (in those same years) was for his stellar work on offense. In 1991, he had 16 goals and 28 assists in the playoffs; one year later, he again had 16 goals but 18 assists. Mario was the leading playoff scorer in both of these years.
An Associated Press story, dispatched on the day of Lemieux's retirement, is telling:
" Lemieux had fewer goals than Gretzky (690 to 894) and fewer assists (1,033 to 1,963) but played nearly 600 fewer games, many surrounded by far less talent than Gretzky had in Edmonton ."
After Lemieux's first retirement, in 1997, he was immediately elected to the International Hockey Hall of Fame, but he wasn't done. " He came out of retirement in 2000 and helped lead the Penguins to the 2001 Eastern Conference finals," a January 25, 2006 " New York Times" article reported. Then, as captain of Team Canada , he led the squad to a thrilling victory over Team USA for the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The future of the success or failure of the Penguins (whatever city they end up in) is directly connected to forward Sidney Crosby ( who is, as of press time, in a close race with the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin for the Rookie of the Year award). After Lemieux made Crosby the Number One draft pick last year, he invited Crosby to move into his Pittsburgh home. Crosby accept and he frequently baby-sits Lemieux's children. Crosby was hired for his on-ice scoring abilities, however, not his baby-sitting services.
At the press conference, Lemieux stated "...I think the best decision is to turn the game over to the younger guys." Then, perhaps remembering his younger days as a NHL scoring superstar, Lemieux's voice began to quiver when he said " All I can say to the younger players is enjoy every moment of it. Just enjoy every moment of it. Your career goes by very quickly."
A respectful Sidney Crosby, standing in the back of the press conference room, took note.