A super statue for a super Mario

Mario Lemieux stands tall and in bronze outside Consol Energy Center
March 8, 2012 9:30 am
  • Brian Smith of Canonsburg takes a photo of his hockey idol's statue Wednesday before the Penguins game with Toronto.
    Brian Smith of Canonsburg takes a photo of his hockey idol's statue Wednesday before the Penguins game with Toronto.
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In a rare public speaking appearance, Lemieux thanked his family, his fans, his teammates and his business partners, including team co-owner Ron Burkle.

"I'm always nervous when I have to speak in front of people, but it was a great day," Mr. Lemieux said.

"When they have a statue like this in your honor, it's something special for myself, my family and, of course, the fans who have followed my career."

The Penguins drafted Mr. Lemieux in 1984 when he was 18, having earned the right to select him first overall by being the worst team in the NHL the previous season.

Mr. Lemieux, from the Montreal suburb of Laval, didn't speak fluent English, and the Penguins had a loyal but small following. All of that changed over the years.

Despite health-related setbacks, Mr. Lemieux captained the Penguins to Stanley Cups in 1991 and '92, and won another as owner in 2009 in what is now the Penguins' Sidney Crosby era. He ranks seventh in NHL history with 1,723 points and ninth with 690 goals in just 915 games. Most of the other top scorers in league history played in more than 1,000 games.

Mr. Lemieux won six Art Ross Trophies as the league's top scorer, three Hart Trophies as MVP, the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, a Masterton Trophy for perseverance, and captained Canada to the 2002 Olympic gold medal.

Along the way, Mr. Lemieux -- who settled locally and is raising his four children here -- turned Pittsburgh into a hockey town that is passionate about the Penguins and studded with rinks that house thousands of youth players.

The growing fan base early in Mr. Lemieux's career helped keep the Penguins in town. In 1999, Mr. Lemieux bought the team out of bankruptcy and eventually repaid all creditors in full. And after he retired, he led the push to get Consol Energy Center built, once again saving the team from relocation.

Mr. Lemieux retired in 1997, came back during the 2000-01 season and retired for good in January 2006 -- Mr. Crosby's rookie season -- because of a heart condition.

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com and Twitter @pgshelly.
First Published 2012-03-07 23:21:57

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