Mario Lemieux

Remembering the Return of Mario Lemieux 23 Years Later

On this day in 2000, Mario Lemieux announced his return to the NHL. From Stanley Cup Champion to cancer survivor and team owner. This is the inspiration of Hockey Hall of Famer, Mario Lemieux.  In a tale that intertwines personal strength, professional excellence, and business acumen, Mario Lemieux stands out as an inspirational icon.

His journey from being one of the faces of the National Hockey League, to battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and eventually becoming the part-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins is nothing short of extraordinary.

An Unforgettable Hockey Career

If you ask the old-timer hockey fans who the closest player to “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky was, Lemieux was him. Mario Lemieux is forever embedded in ice hockey history for his outstanding feats of skill, agility, and power. His career saw him win six NHL scoring titles, three Most Valuable Player awards, and two Stanley Cup Championships as a player. However, the story of Lemieux is not just about his legendary moments in the rink, but his resilience and courage in the face of adversity when he saw how fragile life can be.

In 1993, at the pinnacle of his career, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. Despite this devastating news, Lemieux showed indomitable spirit and courage. After his final radiation treatment on March 2, 1993, he took a plane to Philadelphia, scored a goal and an assist against the Flyers, and led his team to a 17-game winning streak, the best regular-season record in the NHL.

The Battle Off The Ice

Lemieux’s fight with Hodgkin’s made him acutely aware of the fragility of life. It also kindled a deep desire within him to contribute to society and help those less fortunate. This led to the establishment of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, which has since raised and donated millions to cancer research and patient care initiatives.

At a time when he was battling his disease, Lemieux also noticed a significant gap in medical facilities. While he was fighting for his life, his wife gave birth to their premature son, Austin, who spent 71 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, he also had to be there for his two toddler daughters. This experience spurred Lemieux and his wife, Nathalie, to establish Austin’s Playrooms, an initiative aimed at creating playrooms for children and families in medical facilities.

The Unprecedented Comeback

Lemieux’s resilience was on full display when he returned to the ice after battling cancer and a nagging back injury. Many thought he would never play again, but, considering he is an all-timer, Lemieux came back stronger than ever. He picked up his level of play right where it had left off before his illness, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins in what is arguably one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

Despite enduring fatigue from radiation treatments, Lemieux scored 30 goals and notched 26 assists in the final six weeks of the regular season. His remarkable comeback overlapped with a 17-game winning streak for the Penguins, an NHL record that still stands to this day.

From Player to Owner

Lemieux’s involvement with ice hockey didn’t end with his retirement in 1997. When the Pittsburgh Penguins faced bankruptcy in 1999, Lemieux formed an ownership group to purchase the team and save it from potential relocation out of Pittsburgh. This marked the first time a former professional athlete had exchanged a portion of their salary for ownership of a team, making Lemieux the first owner-player in NHL history. This achievement kind of goes under the radar, as we see players discuss player ownership across major sports. Such as Tom Brady, LeBron JamesMichael Jordan etc. 

In December 2000, Lemieux announced his return to the ice after three years of retirement. He went on to play parts of four more seasons with the Penguins until he made his final retirement from the game of hockey in January 2006.

Leaving a Legacy

Mario Lemieux’s enduring legacy goes far beyond his spectacular achievements on the ice and is a story that should be marveled. His triumph over cancer, his philanthropic work through the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and his role in saving and owning the Pittsburgh Penguins are a testament to who he was as a leader, and his accredited business acumen. 

Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to thrive under Lemieux’s leadership. The team has had winning seasons and made the playoffs every year since 2006, with three Stanley Cup victories in 2009, 2016, and 2017. Lemieux’s name is now inscribed on the Stanley Cup five times, twice as a player and three times as an owner. Hard to think it could be argued that his success as an owner almost overshadows his role as a player, which was nothing short of spectacular.  

Today, we remember and admire the story as Mario Lemieux is one of a remarkable individual who rose above personal and professional challenges to leave an indelible mark on more than just the world of ice hockey. A true model of excellence in more ways than one. Consider Mario Lemieux slept on as one of the greats in all of the major four sports. 


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *