Mario Lemieux is a legendary former NHL player and current owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. An all-time great who combined awesome offensive skills and leadership, Lemieux remains one of the most inspirational players of his generation. In his 19-year career, Lemieux won trophies, broke records and inspired a generation of future stars with his never-say-die attitude. He is an inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame (1997) and continues to play an active role in the NHL even today.
Born in Montreal, to a working-class family, Lemieux was introduced to hockey at an early age by his brothers. His junior hockey career started with Laval Voisins, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) side, at just 15 years old.
Lemieux’s stint in the QMJHL was exceptional. He broke the league goals record, held by Guy Lafleur. He also led the Voisins to a playoff berth in the 1984 Memorial Cup. In his 3 years as a junior, 1981-84, Lemieux scored 247 goals, had 315 assists, and recorded 562 points in just 200 games. He was unsurprisingly the top amateur prospect in the 1984 draft.
The Pittsburgh Penguin were the NHL Draft Lottery winners going into the 1984-85 season and selected Lemieux with their first pick. They went into the 1984-85 season with a losing record in 5 consecutive seasons, and had failed to make the postseason in 4 seasons. The team was in one of its worst stretches and were desperate for a star.
The Penguins and Lemieux’s marriage was a match made in heaven from the start. Lemieux led the Penguins’ roster in scoring and assists, and was an All-Star, an All-Star MVP, and Rookie of the Year in his first season there. The Penguins also improved from a 24-51 to 34-38 win-loss record.
The 1986-87 season was difficult for him as he missed several games. However, in the 1988 season, motivated by a good outing in the Canada Cup, Lemieux beat out Wayne Gretzky for to the Art Ross scoring trophy. He also laid his hands on his first League MVP award
The years that followed would see Lemieux cement his status as one of the most skilled, agile and powerful offensive players in the NHL. Among his many accomplishment, Lemieux is the only NHL player in history to score in all 5 possible situations in ice hockey in a single game (even-strength, powerplay, shorthanded, empty net, and penalty shot).
It was in the 1991-92 season that Lemieux would have a taste of his first Stanley Cup success. A back injury would see him miss 50 of the season’s games, but with the Penguins bringing in key pieces into their roster, the team finished first in the Patrick Division and second in the Wales Conference en route to the NHL Playoff Finals.
In the Finals, Lemieux guided his team to a win against the Boston Bruins in 5 games, helping bring the first Stanley Cup in history to Pittsburgh. He also earned himself a Conn Smythe Trophy in the process.
Lemieux would guide his team to a second Stanley Cup in the next season too. He also led the league in scoring (despite missing several games) and added another Conn Smythe into his Trophy cabinet.
The season’s that came after 1992 saw Lemieux struggle with many injuries and illness. He missed two months after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1992-93, and missed another 48 due to back pain in the 1994-1995 season.
It is during this period however that his quality as a leader and dedication to the game shone through. Despite his injuries, he held the scoring record in the ’93 and ’95 seasons and won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for the first time in his career.
His retirement in 1997 came as a surprise to many, but with injury struggles slowing him down, the inevitable had to happen. He hung up his skates for the first time in November of 1997.
It wasn’t long before he was back into the NHL, but now as an owner. With the Penguins running into money problems and declaring for bankruptcy in 1998, they needed money fast. Lemieux, their largest creditor, formed an ownership group that took over the team in 1999.
Lemieux also announced his return to the side in 2000, an act that he has intimated was influenced by his desire to make Canada’s Olympic team for the first time. He was off and on the ice for the Penguins in the four years that followed, but managed to achieve his long-time desire of representing Canada in the Olympics in 2002. He captained his Canada side as they captured gold in Salt Lake City.
In 2006, he finally brought an end to an eventful career dotted with episodes of perseverance, courage and dedication to hockey. In the 915 NHL games he played, he recorded 1723 points and amassed 21 trophies.
Records, Trophies and Career Milestones
Lemieux career was one of the most decorated going into the millennium. He won the Stanley twice with the Penguins (1991 & 1992), made the All-Star Team 13 times (2003, 2002, 2001, 1997, 1996, 1993, 1992, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, & 1985), and was an Olympics gold-medalist (2002). Lemieux also has in his trophy cabinet 5 Ted Lindsay Best Player Awards, 6 Art Ross Points Leader Awards, 2 Conn Smythe trophies, and 3 Hart Memorial MVP trophies
He holds the record for most All-Star MVP awards (3), most 8-point games (3), highest playoff goals per game average (0.710) and most power play points in a season (80).