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A picture worth 66 words

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

A few years ago, an iconic photo of Mario Lemieux as a teenager cheering on his idol Guy Lafleur surfaced on social media.

In the picture, Lafleur - who had just earned his 1,000th NHL point in a game against Winnipeg on March 4, 1981 - is standing at the Habs bench acknowledging the ovation from the fans at the Montreal Forum. 

One of those fans, standing directly behind Lafleur, is a 15-year-old Lemieux - smiling and clapping as Lafleur stood and waved to the crowd.

To top it off, the player beside Lafleur on the Canadiens bench is Pierre Larouche - who would, of course, later become Lemieux's best friend.

Photo credit: Doug Ball

NHL.com writer Dave Stubbs discovered the image, taken by photographer Doug Ball, and posted it on social media on the 34th anniversary of the historic point. It wasn't until a couple of days later that one of his eagle-eyed Twitter followers realized it was Lemieux in the background.

"That's when things erupted," Ball said. 

And when the Penguins hosted the Canadiens at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night, Ball drove down from Oakville, Ontario to attend the game - where he got the chance to meet Lemieux and Larouche, and take a photo with the photo.

"I think (Stubbs) sent one to (Penguins VP of communications Tom McMillan), and he sent it off to Mario," Ball said. "And he said, 'I want one for my office!' It turns out that his best buddy Pierre was in it. You can't make it up. 

"And to see him tonight - everything is just so nice. We went in and he made us feel at home."

Ball was escorted to Lemieux's suite during the first intermission, and after introductions were made, copies of the photo were brought out.

"When was that, '83?" Lemieux said with a smile. "No, '81!" Ball corrected him.

Lemieux then showed the photo around to others in the suite before he, Larouche and Ball all signed copies. 

"He just marveled at it because he said yeah, that was '81 and I was 15," Ball said. "And there was his best buddy, which makes it better."

The three of them also reminisced about that night, where Ball, an award-winning Canadian photojournalist, was there shooting the game for the Canadian Press/AP. 

"I read the reports and see Lafleur needs three points and he had a goal and an assist in the first period," Ball said. "I can't leave. I think it was the first part of the third period that Lafleur got a goal to get 1,000. That was Mario's hero, right? But we didn't know that. Of course we didn't know Mario was there or who he was yet. He was just 15."

It's funny because at the time, Ball wasn't totally satisfied with his photo of the goal itself. But as he said, back then you didn't know right away how they would turn out using film instead of digital.

After he snapped that, Ball got a photo of Lafleur receiving the puck from Larry Robinson, who had assisted on the goal. That's when Lafleur sat down on the bench.

"Pierre said, 'I had to tell him to get up!'" Ball said with a laugh. "So he finally stood up. He did one of these. So I shot across the ice."

Ball was more satisfied with that photo, but for decades, had no idea just how incredible it was - capturing a future legend and the best to ever play the game just in the stands, as a fan, cheering his idol.

"It's a nice one," Ball said as he gazed down at one of the autographed copies. "This is great. Look at this signed. Man, oh man. Look at that."

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