Today we will stick with the theme of yesterday’s shots (and probably most of the shots from this week), the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two weeks ago a new statue was unveiled outside of CONSOL Energy Center, entitled ‘Le Magnifique’ in honor of the player that it represents, former Penguin great and current owner, Mario Lemieux. I knew that there were a couple of shots that I wanted to get and on Sunday I was able to capture two of them, with the third one being a night time image. The statue represents a play from December 20, 1988 against the New York Islanders, when Mario took a pass from now Penguins TV color analyst Bob Errey, split the Isles defense and ripped a wrist shot home for a breakaway goal. It is meant to represent Lemieux’s ability to not just overcome adversity on the ice, but off the ice as well.
To me, there is no question who the greatest player in hockey was and that is number 66. He may not be atop the records in scoring, goals, or assists but like Sidney Crosby does for the Penguins today, brings so much more than just his scoring to the ice. Remember, from 1997 to 2002, Mario played only 67 games due to a battle with cancer. Fighting both the disease and back issues led him to play less than 25 games in five of his 17 seasons in the National Hockey League, all with Pittsburgh. In those 17 seasons, he played just 915 games yet still ranks 7th all time in points. To put that in perspective, the only other play in the top 50 in career NHL points is ranked at 36.
Mario made everyone around him better. He didn’t have the blazing speed, but he had a certain grace on the ice that you just knew something magical was going to happened when he touched the puck. He was famous for being able to split defenders, as he is portrayed doing in the statue, or making the no look pass. His wrist shot was quick, accurate and unmatched. His quiet leadership gained him the respect of his teammates along with the rest of the NHL and his passion inspired hockey players of all ages. His legend was actually born on the very first shift of his NHL career, when he stole the puck from Hall of Famer Ray Bourqe and, on his very first NHL shot, scored his very first NHL goal.
Number 66 saved the Pittsburgh franchise twice. Once in the mid 1980s when he was drafted by a Penguins team that had declared bankruptcy a few years earlier and once when he bought the team to again save them from bankruptcy in 1999. This statue is very well deserved and as impressive as it is, is still not enough to express all the gratitude that people in Pittsburgh will always have for Mario Lemiex.
Thanks for stopping by today folks! See you all tomorrow!