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Historical Headlines: Lemieux Debut Gets Rave Review

by Jack O'Leary / The Pittsburgh Press

This story was originally written by the The Pittsburgh Press sports writer Jack O'Leary and was published on Thursday, October 11, 1984. 

OFCOURSE Mario Lemieux scored on his first NHL shot and, naturally, it was on a breakaway. After all, isn't that the way the second coming of The Great Gretzky is supposed to make his debut?

"I don't think it's fair to compare me to Wayne Gretzky," Lemieux said, as if heresy had been committed. "He is the greatest player in the world. I just want to be myself and do the things I do best on the ice."

What this recently turned 19-year-old does best on the ice is everything. He has no glaring weaknesses. What's even more unusual is that he combines all of his talent with sincere modesty. He should at least have an inkling that he's the bona-fide savior of what was a floundering Pittsburgh Penguins' franchise.

"I'm not alone you know," he said in self defense, "We have two other first round draft choices, Roger Belanger and Doug Bodger. We have a lot of young players here. It's not one guy who's gong to save the franchise."

For almost an hour after being on the losing side of his first NHL game, Lemieux handled the questions over and over again, never once bending to the temptation of letting his latest interogater know that he's been asked the same one 10 times before. Instead, he calmly and oh-so-politely answered time and time , always giving just the right response.

"I'm glas the first game is over," he smiled into the cameras from the Pittsburgh TV stations which has deemed his first fame a media event worthy of coverage usually reserved for the Steelers or Pirates. "There was a lot of pressure. It would have been better if we had won the game though. There's less pressure from the Pittsburgh fans," he continued. "It's not like Montreal or Quebec. The pressure is less here."

Bruins' coach Gerry Cheevers was suitable impressed but the NHL's latest poster boy.

"You know, every college basketball team has one guy who can pass or shoot better than everyone else on the team and they usually call him 'Slick'," Cheevers said. "That's what I call this kid, 'Slick', because that's just what he is."

Not if you just listen to Lemieux.

"I just go on the ice and do the best I can, doing the things I do best," he said shyly.

"I get more pleasure out of an assist than a goal," he said with his broadcast smile of the night. "At least I worked hard tonight. It's not easy starting in Boston against the Bruins."

It may not be easy starting one's career in Boston Garden against the Bruins but you never would have known it has you been one of the sell out crowd of 14,451. They were treated to a fine performance as well as the wunderkind's first goal. By the time he hangs up his skates there'll be many more. 

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