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Mario was super despite the obstacles

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Super Mario lifted the Penguins
By Fred W. Kiger
Special to

Signature Game
March 26, 1996 - Although leading the league in goals, points, power-play goals, shorthanded goals and hat tricks this season, Mario Lemieux's head had been elsewhere the last couple of months.

Two days earlier, that burden was lifted when his wife Nathalie, who had been confined to bed for the last two months with a troubled pregnancy, gave birth to Austin Nicholas, the couple's third child and first son. Though Austin was born three months premature and weighed only two pounds and five ounces, doctors reported the two were out of harm's way.

With their health assured, Super Mario had a super night. Facing his rival Wayne Gretzky and the St. Louis Blues, the Penguins center scored five goals for the third time in his career and recorded two assists to reach the career 800-assist plateau.

With seven points in the 8-4 victory in Pittsburgh, he personally outscored Gretzky for just the second time in 20 head-to-head meetings. Basking in the glow of a new child, five goals and a standing ovation, No. 66 had led his Penguins to a win and had turned No. 99 upside down.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • As a teen, Lemieux raced toward two defensemen and without looking back, fired a pass on to the stick of a trailing teammate. When his stunned coach asked him how he knew the teammate was there, Lemieux said by the sound of his skates.

  • Lemieux was named the Canadian major junior player of the year for the 1983-84 season.

  • Although selected with the first pick by Pittsburgh in the 1984 draft, Lemieux refused to wear a Penguins' sweater because contract talks had stalled.

  • In 1984-85, Lemieux became only the third NHL rookie to ever score 100 points.

  • Lemieux has won three All-Star Game MVP awards (1985, 1988 and 1990).

  • In 1988-89, Lemieux joined Gretzky in scoring 70 or more goals in back-to-back seasons.

  • In the same season, Lemieux set a record for short-handed goals with 13 and had a hand in 57.3 percent of Pittsburgh's goals, the highest percentage in NHL history.

  • In 1991-92, Lemieux became the second fastest (Gretzky was first) to reach the 1,000-point plateau.

  • In Lawrence Martin's unauthorized biography in 1993, one chapter is entitled "The Anti-Gretzky."

  • According to Martin, Lemieux lost his virginity on a date arranged by Gretzky.

  • Martin reported that Lemieux smoked continuously.

  • On Jan. 26, 1997, Lemieux joined several players in NHL history with four goals in one period. The four came in the third period of Pittsburgh's 5-2 win at Montreal.

  • After the Penguins filed for bankruptcy in October 1998, Lemieux assembled a group of investors who submitted a reorganization plan to a U.S. bankruptcy judge in March 1999. The plan was confirmed in June and -- after several months of negotiations with partners and vendors -- received final approval in September.

  • In January 2001, CTV Sportsnet gave its viewers a second feed, one that followed Lemieux's every move in a game against Boston. The experiment was called "60 Minutes with 66" and cost CTV $10,000.

  • In February 2001, Lemieux criticized Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire after a game in which he was stymied by the Wild's neutral-zone trap. "That's not what we're trying to sell to the fans," Lemieux said, complaining about Minnesota's overly defensive play.

  • With Pittsburgh 78 seconds away from being eliminated in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals, Lemieux scored to tie Game 6. The Penguins went on to beat the Sabres in overtime, and then won the seventh game to reach the conference finals.

  • In his 14 seasons, Lemieux has never played a full slate of games. Only five times has he appeared in at least 70 games.

  • Lemieux was named to the first-team all-NHL five times and to the second team four times.

  • He oversees the Mario Lemieux Foundation for cancer research and hosts and celebrity golf tournament. In February 2001, he announced that the foundation was making a $5 million gift to the UPMC Helath System to create and establish the Mario Lemieux Centers for Patient Care and Research.

  • Lemieux and Nathalie have four children. They live in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley.

  • Lemieux has about 5,000 bottles of wine in his 24-by-24-foot wine cellar.

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