MARIO LEMIEUX, number one in our heart

by Wilt

            Under the surname Lemieux, which means « the best » in French, a star was born on October 5th, 1965 in Ville Emard, in the neighborhood of Montreal. Early conscious of his talent, he decided to live up to his surname : MARIO LEMIEUX.

            The little boy started skating when he was 2. He played his first game at 6. And when he was just 12, he knew he could lead a long way. Dropping out of school at 16, he decided to concentrate on hockey. But it’s only at 18 that he made the first real highlight of his life : he recorded 282 points with 133 goals during a Major Junior League season, completed by an 11-point final game.

            First selection in the 1984 NHL draft... so Wayne Gretzky was in 1979 ! But on October 11th, in his first game, on his first shift, on his first shot, he scored his first goal, and moved on. Pittsburgh Penguins franchise had picked the jackpot : number 66. Ending the season with the Rookie of the Year award, he registered 100 points, 43 goals.

            Reputedly lax and lazy, he had to make the grumblers shut up. So that’s why he scored 168, then 199 points on career-highs 85 goals and 114 assists, in 1987- 88 and 1988-89. This 199-point season was the fifth° all-time best total in NHL history.

            At the pinnacle of his career started the injuries. A herniated disc and the recuperation after surgery forced him to miss 71 games in two seasons. Back at the crucial moment, he led the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup in their history. The following season, back problems and a broken left hand were not serious enough to prevent him from brandishing the back-to-back Stanley Cup. Tearing up the league in 1992-93 with 104 points in 40 games, he was up to enter Gretzky’s private 200-point club. But « the Next One » found a more difficult opponent than « the Great One » : a lump on his neck, which revealed Hodgkin’s disease. This cancer of the lymph nodes had already taken one of his cousins’ life.

            Then Mario seriously thought of retirement, because of the radiation therapy. Though, he knew he had to honor a $42-million 7-year contract, signed at the start of the current season. So on the final day of his treatment, he returned on ice and scored 1 goal and 1 assist ! One week later, he led the Pens to an NHL-record 17-game winning streak ! He finished the season with 160 points. Then the Magnificent One suffered from complications following his back surgery. Missing the main part of the 1993-94 season, he really started to complain about the NHL, he called a « garage league ». Nothing was made to protect the stars against game aggressions. He announced his retirement. He spent the following year struggling against the disease and the back injury... but it was to come back strong !
            In 1995-96, he returned hot stuff scoring 161 points, with 69 goals.

            Until today, he has officially retired : the Hall of Fame elected him into the shrine in September 1997. After a very chaotic 12-year career, persecuted by a capricious health, Lemieux made the good choice. Apart from health, the decision has come because of endless arguments with the league’s direction. Hockey had become too aggressive for the 6’4’’, 220-pound center ! ... what was true.

            « ... no athlete 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 », wrote Frank Deford in Newsweek. Lemieux was actually the most prolific scorer in NHL history. He was also the only player with outstanding averages of 2.005 points a game and 0.823 goal a game ! ! !

            Today in charge of the Mario Lemieux Foundation against cancer, Mario lives « away from the game, the goals and the glory ». When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Lemieux said : « Just as somebody who took a last-place team and won a championship. » Penguins owner said of him : « Remember him for his gifts, his grace and beauty on the ice. And most of all, remember his courage. »

            Three times MVP and six times leading scorer with 1,494 points (613 goals & 881 assists) in 745 games, hockey fans were used to rank him number two in all- time, behind Gretzky, but he remains, number one in our heart.


° : The 4 all-time best totals in season are Wayne Gretzky’s : 212 points in 1981-82, 205 in 1983-84, 208 in 1984-85, and a top-scoring performance with 215 points in 1985-86.

To get Mario's award list in career, click on AWARDS
To get Mario's stats in career, click on STATS.