The Magnificent Mario Lemieux Rave
Sad news today: One of the 2 or 3 greatest players to ever play the game of hockey has announced his retirement. Yes, at the age of 40 Mario Lemieux is calling it quits. Lemieux, like Gretzky, made watching the NHL (and international tournaments like the Canada Cup) an absolute joy back in the 80's and early-90's. But, personally, my favorite Mario memories are definitely from December 2000 to May 2001 when, after 3 years of retirement and at the relatively ripe old age of 35, he made one of the greatest comebacks in professional sports history, not only guiding the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals and just barely missing the Stanley Cup Finals, but also becoming the leading scorer in the league from the time of his comeback until the end of the season.
This was a guy who hadn't played in 3 years! This was a guy who had battled cancer just a few short years before! This was a guy who had also battled a rare bone infection! This was a guy whose back problems were so bad when he first retired that he could no longer lace up his own skates! To come back at all was one thing, to dominate the league was something else. It was simply spectacular to watch.
And watch we did. We were traveling around America at the time and even down there in the Southern States this was big enough news for ESPN to switch the NHL from ESPN2 to their main channel for every Penguins game over the next couple of weeks and for many other Mario games over the next few months. Yes, that's right, bumping the usually-much-higher-rated motocross, poker, bowling, horseshoes and whatever else they find so much more exciting than the NHL down there to ESPN2. Mario must have impressed because he was regularly on over the next few months, even on our motel TVs down there in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
We watched Mario right through to his last game of the season that year, a game we watched up in Toronto together with my sister, who, it must be noted, asked many questions about "the ball", as if to prove once and for all that not ALL Canadians are hockey fans.
Perhaps Mario's greatest moment came when he captained Canada to the Gold medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. But, alas, we weren't able to watch any of that seeing that we were over in Hong Kong, where hockey, strangely enough, hasn't yet seemed to catch on and was, therefore, not a priority for the local TV stations. In fact, they didn't seem to be all that into the Winter Olympics at all. (We were, however, able to watch some great ping pong matches on TV whenever we felt the urge). So, sadly, I missed Mario's Olympic glory, but I'll always remember him for his magnificent and magical play in the 80's and then again, amazingly, in 2000-2001.
690 goals and 1,723 points in 915 games. Two Stanley Cups. Six scoring championships. An Olympic gold medal and lots lots more. All hail the magnificent Mario!!! And just imagine what he could have done if he hadn't spent half of his career injured or battling serious illness.
Mario, man, you were simply brilliant!
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Tuesday, January 24th, 2006