The Complete Player:
The hockey gods gifted him in just about every area: playmaking, scoring, puck-handling, you name it. The body was big and strong and agile enough to ward off checkers and muscle through defensemen. The intangible skill that sets the great ones apart - imagination, anticipation, vision, call it what you will was present in abundance. Put it all together in one package, and Mario Lemieux at his peak comes as close to the perfect hockey player as we are likely to ever see.
By the age of 19, Mario Lemieux was the talk of the hockey world. But he began his pro career at the bottom rung when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984. The worst team in the NHL, with little fan support, the Penguins were a textbook example of hockey failure. Within seven years Lemieux led them to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.
On October 11th, 1984, against the Boston Bruins, Lemieux scored his first NHL goal on his first shift, with his first shot.
Despite recording at least 100 points in each of his first three seasons, Lemieux was seen by many as a brilliant soloist who had yet to win anything. The turning point came in the Canada Cup tournament of 1987. Against the greatest players from around the world, Lemieux collected 18 points in nine games and scored a dramatic game-winning goal for Canada in the championship final against the USSR. The following season, he won his first NHL scoring title and Hart Trophy as league MVP.
The Complete Game:
There are five kinds of goals a hockey player can score, and on December 31, 1988, Mario Lemieux became the only NHL player to do it all in one game. Against the New Jersey Devils he recorded an even-strength goal, a power play goal, a short-handed goal, a penalty shot goal and an empty-net goal.
The Fight to Stay Healthy:
Back problems first emerged in the late 1980s. Lemieux had a herniated disk removed in 1990, underwent further back surgery in 1993 and suffered from a rare bone infection. Also in 1993 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. Returning to the Penguins on the day he completed radiation treatment, Lemieux won the NHL scoring title despite missing two months of the season. Chronic injuries persisted for the rest of his career. An irregular heartbeat, diagnosed in 2005, led to his final retirement.
The Stanley Cups:
Back surgery forced him to the sidelines for most of 1990-91. But Lemieux returned with a vengeance near the end of the regular season, and then put on a specatacular playoff performance - 44 points in 23 games - as the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup. They repeated as champs the following year, ending a dominant Stanley Cup run with 11 straight victories. Lemieux was named playoff MVP both years.
Lemieux retired in 1997 at the age of 31. But two years later he saved the Penguins again, this time from financial ruin. Enter Lemieux as head of an ownership group, which bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy and settled the debts. Owed millions of dollars in deferred salary, he took it all in the form of equity in the franchise.
In December of 2000, over three years removed from his last competitive game, Lemieux surprised the hockey world by returning as a player. On an emotional night in Pittsburgh, he scored a goal and two assists in his first game back. In his "second career" phase, from 2000 to 2005, he would record 77 goals and 152 assists in 170 games.
The Canadian Captain:
In February of 2002, plagued by further back and hip problems, Lemieux made his only appearance at the Olympic Games. He scored a crucial goal against the Czech Republic and led Canada to a gold medal as team captain. Two years later he returned as Canada's captain, this time in the 2004 World Cup. Playing the last meaningful games of his career, he led the team to a perfect record and the tournament championship.
Born: October 5, 1965 in Montreal, Quebec.
Height and Weight: 6'4" and 230 pounds.
Drafted: 1st overall, 1984 NHL Entry Draft, by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
NHL Debut: October 11th, 1984.
Retired: April 26, 1997.
Inducted Into the Hockey Hall of Fame: November 17, 1997.
Returned from Retirement: December 27, 2000.
Final Retirement: January 24, 2006.
Games-915 Goals-690 Assists-1033 Points-1723
Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Games-107 Goals-76 Assists-96 Points-172
NHL Individual Awards:
Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year): 1985
Art Ross Trophy (Scoring Champion): 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997
Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player): 1988, 1993, 1996
Conn Smythe Trophy (Most Valuable Player, Stanley Cup Playoffs): 1991, 1992
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (Perseverance and Sportsmanship): 1993
Lester B. Pearson Award (Most Valuable Player as voted by NHL players): 1986, 1988, 1993, 1996
First All-Star Team Centre: 1988, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1997
Second All-Star Team Centre: 1986, 1987, 1992, 2001