MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin turned 50 this year with little fanfare, but he understands why that won't be the case for one of his lifelong friends.
Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux turned 50 on Monday, nearly two months after his former minor hockey teammate Bergevin hit the milestone on Aug. 11.
The two technically are competitors in the NHL's Eastern Conference, but the friendship they forged playing for the same team in pee-wee, bantam and midget in southwest Montreal nearly 40 years ago remains as strong as ever.
"I had a surprise birthday party for my 50th, and I know he was in Pittsburgh and he showed up," Bergevin said. "He flew in from Pittsburgh with his wife. I think that says a lot. I did the same thing for him. He had his 50th in Mont Tremblant [about 80 miles north of Montreal], so I didn't have to fly anywhere. I drove.
"Nathalie, his wife, she surprised him pretty good. It was Aug. 1, and I remember watching him walk into his own house and being shocked, and I'm thinking, 'I'm on my guard. I'm not going to get caught with a surprise 50th. I'm going to see it coming.' I never saw mine coming, and he was there."
Lemieux, Bergevin and Canadiens assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault played on the Ville Emard Hurricanes and attended Honore-Mercier High School, giving Bergevin a front-row seat to watch the development of one of the greatest players of all time.
That greatness wasn't always easy for Lemieux to handle, Bergevin said.
"People were mean back then," Bergevin said. "I remember parents, even in pee-wee and bantam, we obviously were the team to beat in Montreal and in the province, and some places we went they were not nice because of Mario. At times they sent players after him, he was bigger than everyone, but we still won games anyway. He didn't shy away. He had a temper."
When Lemieux went off to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1981-82, it marked the end of his time as Bergevin's teammate until they were reunited on the Penguins nearly 20 years later, in 2000-01. Bergevin played parts of two more seasons with the Penguins, and even though he has all the memories from their childhoods to draw upon, it was there that one of his favorite Lemieux moments happened.
"There was a faceoff in the offensive zone. It was against Buffalo, I remember, and it was on the left side of the goalie, and Mario is a right shot," Bergevin said, a smile creeping across his face as the memory became clearer. "He was on the bench and he turned around and said, 'Watch this.' So he skated in and took the faceoff, and as soon as the puck dropped, he snapped it and scored. He knew going in what he was doing. I think the centerman was Chris Gratton, I'm not sure, and maybe he took a faceoff against him before, so he knew a way he could do it. But I remember as clear as day, he said, 'Watch this,' and he scored."