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Historical Headlines: Super Mario

by Tom McMillan / Post-Gazette Sports Writer

This story was originally written by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports writer Tom McMillan and was published on January 22, 1990.

They asked Mike Vernon, the exasperated little goalie, when he knew he was in trouble.

And Vernon said, "When I heard the game was in Pittsburgh."

Good Call. Mario Lemieux, cavorting in his own building, before his own adoring fans, presided over the greatest offensive show in All-Star history, pumping in four goals and leading the Wales Conference to a 12-7 romp over the Campbell Conference in the 41st National Hockey League All-Star Game yesterday.

Lemieux, who narrowly missed a fifth goal when he bounced a show off the goal post on a short-handed breakaway, dominated from the opening shift, obliterated Wayne Gretzky in their national network competition and became the first three-time All-Star MVP.

"Game Plan?" said Pat Burns, the flabbergasted Wales coach. "There's not too much of a game plan to have with No. 66 in front of you. You just let him play."

The Penguins center took his cue before an NBC television audience and a Civic Arena sellout of 16,236. He scored his first goal at the 21-seond mark, twirling out from behind

Lemieux got three goals on three shots in the first period, hoisting the Wales to a 7-2 lead, and never let up. One of his most spectacular efforts came on a non-scoring play, when he circled the new with the puck, found no reasonable opening, and began to circle again until two embarrassed Campbellites ganged up and tipped it away.

"He's a God-given goal-scorer," said Campbell coach Terry Crisp. "I guess you appreciate it a little more when the best in the business are out there, and he's still doing his stuff."

Lemieux's four goals tired Gretzky for the single-game All Star mark, and he became the first player to score two career hat tricks in the midseason competition.

For perspective, know that only two other players - Gretzky and Ted Lindsay - have scored All-Star hat tricks.

Lemieux won his first MVP award in his rookie season, 1984-1985, then duplicated his feat two years ago, when his three goals and All-Star record six points led the Wales to an overtime victory.

So, already, there is evidence that he is the greatest player in All-Star history. His 14 points rank second on the all-time list, but Lemieux has achieved that total in just five games. Hall-of-Famer Gordie Howe is the leader with 19 points, but he played in 23 games.

Gretzky has 13 points in 10 All-Star games.

"You're talking about a guy who rises to the occasion, to the big game," said Eddie Johnston, the Penguins' former general manager. "The first time he was on the ice for s as a Penguin, he scored a goal. He score the winning goal in the Canada Cup. He got the first one out there today."

"When I saw that, I just shook my head. I said, 'Oh, boy. Look out.'"

Lemieux's lightning opening goal set a lousy trend for the goalies. The game's best skater and scorers mounted a relentless assault on the record book, including most goals by one team, 12 for the Wales, and most goals by both teams, 19.

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