Long before the green was out in the store windows, the Pens had what was labeled the Irish Line. For about a week, Kennedy, Sullivan and O’Reilly laced up together. Well, that line didn’t last long and neither did O’Reilly’s time in Pittsburgh, yet have no fear, thanks to the marketing gurus and retail proprietors, we can sport some Irish green. At the Pen’s Gear stores you can find the likes of the Irish such as O’Crosby and McMalkin. (Who was the brain that thought of doubling the Irish – O’Kennedy and O’Sullivan?) Yet it is this week that this Irish lass would like to pay homage to Oh Mario!
Much to his chagrin, a statue will be unveiled on Wednesday, March 7th, Le Magnifique, as it is being called. It could also appropriately be called The Magnificent One or Super Mario or perhaps “the best” as ironically his surname literally translates.
In a town that worships sports figures it is most appropriate that a formal dedication to this man, myth, and legend is raised, for Mario is much more than a sports figure and hall of famer. As David Morehouse, CEO and President of the Penguins has said, “Mario Lemieux is a unique figure in the history of Pittsburgh – a Hall of Fame athlete who went on to buy the Penguins and become the first player-owner of the modern era, and also a community-minded citizen who continues to raise millions of dollars for cancer research and neonatal research. This statue will be an everlasting tribute to his legacy.”
Most know of his records, he led 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 three Hart Trophies as the NHL’s most valuable player during the regular season, six Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer and two Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP. At the time of his retirement, he was the NHL’s seventh-ranked all-time scorer with 690 goals and 1,033 assists. He ranks second in NHL history with a 0.754 goals-per game average for his career. In 2004, he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Lemieux was awarded the Order of Canada in 2010. He is the only player to have played three, eight point games. He led the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons. He is the only person ever to win the Stanley Cup as both a player and an owner. Oh’ My, Mario!!
Can you imagine if he had the luck of the Irish and played in good health? A bad back and Hodgkin’s disease had Mario on the bench for more periods than we wanted. Oh how he inspired us (even in Flyer Country) as lore would have it, on the day of his last radiation treatment, Lemieux flew to Philadelphia to play and 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 a visiting player.
It’s ok to be selfish, the likes of him and his talent are rare, so if you were lucky to have been a hockey fan when it was first becoming popular in Pittsburgh, cherish those memories.
Numbers not in the record books include the amount of hockey rinks that are in existence in Western PA, not to mention the amount of current and future NHL players, for what was once a hotbed for NFL athletes has become a starting ground for hockey players. Sorry Detroit, Pittsburgh is Hockeytahn – as the area continues to set records in retail sales, TV ratings and ticket sales. Although this may be a new generation, it is a direct result of Lemieux.
Today he is spotted in the owner’s booth in a suit. And typical Mario, it looks most fitting. I’m sure the young, French speaking boy never imagined himself in this position. I gained even more respect and inside to Lemieux after reading Breakaway by Andrew Conte. He surrounds himself with the right people and has become a shrewd businessman. He has the touch off the ice as well. Just ask former Governor Ed Rendell or Jim Balsillie about negotiating and working his magic. As usual, Lemieux knew who to team with as Ron Burkle and David Morehouse formed a formidable opponent. That team, captained by Mario was the biggest save of all. We can be most thankful that the Kansas City Penguins don’t exist.
If ever I have my Marsha Brady/Davey Jones moment with Mr. Lemieux, I would hope I could speak and thank him for my interest (addiction) to hockey, saving the team countless times, setting an example for leadership and community and for spoiling Pittsburgh hockey fans forever. And like many Irish, I will probably get teary when I see the statue unveiled. It will be tears of joy.
Go raibh maith agat O’Mario! (Thank you)