PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux doesn't take much lightly. The great ones never do; that's why they are better than every one else.
So rest assured he will not be taking Friday's alumni game at Heinz Field -- an appetizer to Saturday's main course of the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic -- too lightly.
"Nervous today," he said, smiling, as he turned the corner and walked down the corridor at Consol Energy Center for an afternoon scrimmage.
Friday morning's game, against a team of Washington Capitals alumni, will be Lemieux's first game since he retired for the second and final time in 2006.
"We really appreciate it," Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier told NHL.com. "We're honored for the opportunity to play and that he (Lemieux) is playing. It just brings things up to another level. He is such a great person, let alone hockey player. I think all the guys appreciate it; and as far as Pittsburgh, it's just great to have that Mario Lemieux personality in the lineup."
Lemieux, now the Penguins' co-owner and chairman after a Hall of Fame career in the Steel City, is revered in this region for all he has accomplished with the local hockey club. He has an unblemished legacy of hockey heroics that he will not sully with a less-than-capable performance Friday.
So he strapped on the skates and all the other equipment that defined who he was for more than three decades and took part in a scrimmage the Penguins' staff has during the afternoon on most home game days. This one was a bit different than the usual affair, which features players of all levels, culled from almost every department of the team's operations staff.
This game was filled with a collection of ringers. Former Pens Troy Loney, Rick Tocchet, Bob Errey, Jay Caufield and Trottier were among those to join in the fun.
And it was a lot of fun. Sure, these guys were trying to get into some semblance of shape before they play Friday, but nobody was taking it too serious.
In fact, the insults flew harder and faster than most of the shots during the scrimmage.
"Oh yeah, this is fun, just to be back in the dressing room," Errey told NHL.com before taking the ice. "Everything is flowing in there right now, like we never missed a day. There's a lot of jabbing and jawing going on."
"This is fun, just to be back in the dressing room. Everything is flowing in there right now, like we never missed a day. There's a lot of jabbing and jawing going on."
-- Bob Errey
"I haven't seen a lot of these guys in a lot of years and right away Bob Errey says, 'Don't worry about bringing a stick out there, you can't stickhandle anyways,'" Tocchet told NHL.com. "I told Bobby to just dump it in and get off -- just like the old days."
Yes, they laughed at each other, but they also laughed at themselves.
Trottier, who scored 524 goals and won six Stanley Cups as a player, was asked if he would put up big numbers Friday. He dismissed such talk with a cutting barb about his own game these days.
"No hands, no legs, no wind, so that is three strikes against me," Trottier said.
For current Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, the scrimmage proved to be the perfect way to prepare for Tuesday's game against Atlanta. He marveled at some of the legends playing alongside of him and laughed at the cutting comments that flowed freely before and during the game.
"Those guys have had great careers and I suppose they can barb each other," Bylsma told NHL.com. "This is a pretty exciting skate. When the alumni game came on the radar, these guys showed up and said, 'Hey, can we have some ice?' I thought it was great. We have a chance to get out there with Bryan Trottier and Mario Lemieux and some more guys today.
"I'm still like a kid in the candy store when I get to go out there and give a slash on the ankle to Mario Lemieux."