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Phil Coffey
Consider yourself warned! Phil Coffey, NHL.com's editorial director, will share his views on the NHL frequently in this space over the course of the season.

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More than numbers to Lemieux

Season Archive
October 2005

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006

More than numbers
to Lemieux

As we got the word at NHL.com that Mario Lemieux was going to announce his retirement at 2 p.m. Tuesday, preparations ramped up in a big way.

One of the detriments to age is not being able to remember all those fun facts that seemed to be at my fingertips not too long ago. So, as I researched Lemieux's career, I got to his career stats and was surprised.

The totals of 690 goals and 1,033 assists in 915 regular-season games is jaw-dropping, but places Lemieux only seventh on the NHL's all-time points list. Seventh!

Ah, but then the feeble mind began to do some math. Thanks to back woes, hip problems and Hodgkin's disease, Lemieux was forced to watch far more games than any player with his talent should be forced to see from the sidelines. Good lord, what would his scoring totals have been with a modicum of good health?

As it stands now, the trophy case is mind-boggling. Two Stanley Cups. Two Conn Smythe Trophies as postseason MVP. The Art Ross Trophy as the regular season's leading scorer came to Lemieux six times. The Hart Trophy as the MVP of the regular season was Lemieux's three times and he also won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

But I think Lemieux's career is one of moments rather than reciting statistics and trophies. Think about it for a second. If you conjure up some of the great hockey moments in the last 20 years chances are Lemieux is right in the middle of them.

And it starts with his first shift, when he stole the puck from Ray Bourque in Boston Garden and scored on a breakaway for his first goal on his first shot on his first shift. Nothing like setting a tone.

The two Stanley Cups won by the Penguins during Lemieux's career also are memorable. For the first, he returned after missing most of the regular season and played like a man possessed. He scored 16 goals and 28 assists in just 23 games, winning the first of his two Conn Smythe Trophies. The Pens were a powerhouse in the day with Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr setting the gold standard for offense.

Another unforgettable moment came at the 1993 NHL All-Star Game at the Montreal Forum. This was a special event in any case with all the Canadiens' great players returning. But Lemieux, undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's disease made an appearance and waved to the crowd, setting off a thunderous ovation. Certainly was an unforgettable moment from my 25 years covering the NHL.

The 1987 Canada Cup is another. I can still hear the late, great Dan Kelly's call -- "Murphy ... to Gretzky ... to Lemieux ... he scores!" That goal, in the waning moments of the championship game against the Soviets, sealed the verdict for Canada in the tournament and the wild celebration was one that shouldn't be missed.

When Team Canada was assembled for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the roster was filled with some of the greatest players in NHL history. Big-time leaders too, like Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, but when Lemieux was named captain, there wasn't a discouraging word to be heard. Even to the game's greats, Lemieux was great.

And he helped Canada win the coveted gold medal that had gone missing for 50 years. Another moment not to be missed.

And the moment that seems particularly poignant now came right after Sidney Crosby was selected with the top pick of the 2005 Entry Draft by the Pens. Those photos of Lemieux and Crosby seemed to announce the passing of the torch in Pittsburgh. We just didn't know it would be this soon.

Posted by Phil @ 2:12 p.m.



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