Mario Lemieux will stand forever in the hearts and memories of Penguins fans. Now he’ll stand forever in bronze outside of CONSOL Energy Center.
“Le Magnifique” – a statue honoring the hockey legend and icon – was unveiled Wednesday afternoon in a public ceremony at the Trib Total Media Gate.
The 4,700-pound bronze statue features Lemieux skating through two defensemen on his way to scoring a goal, an adaptation of a sequence that took place Dec. 20, 1988 at Civic Arena against the New York Islanders.
Mario Lemieux Statue – ‘Le Magnifique’
“You’re always emotional. When they have a statue like this in your honor, it’s something special for myself, my family and, of course, all the fans that have followed my career,” said Lemieux, who has won two Stanley Cups as a player and one as owner with the Penguins. “It’s a special day. It was a great day and I’m going to enjoy the rest of the day.”
The hockey gods cleared the skies and warmed the weather to a fitting 66 degrees for the historic day. Long-time Penguins broadcaster Mike Lange emceed the event with president and CEO David Morehouse also speaking. Lemieux addressed the media and fans in attendance after the sheet was drawn down to reveal the monument.
The statue, which was sculpted by Bruce Wolfe, was based on Paul Bereswill’s photograph of the play, which appeared in Sports Illustrated and is part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s collection. It took 15 months to design and construct.
On the play, forever immortalized in bronze, Lemieux skated through blueliners Rich Pilon and Jeff Norton on his way to scoring a goal at 14:09 of the third period in the Penguins’ 5-3 win. Bob Errey and Dan Quinn assisted on the play.
“I have the picture at home,” Lemieux said with a smile. “I looked at the tape last week, but I don’t remember it.”
The Penguins had several options from which to choose to use for the statue. The team chose the visage of him busting through two players as a metaphor of everything he accomplished in his career and life.
“We considered a number of options, including one of Mario hoisting the Stanley Cup as a player, and one of him carrying the puck in full flight, but we decided this was the ultimate representation of what he did and who he was,” Morehouse said. “On the ice, Mario powered his way past defensemen to score incredible goals. Off the ice he overcame and broke through so many challenges.”
Lemieux was involved in the decision-making process, and agreed that this image was best to use for its symbolism.
“We looked at hundreds of pictures. We came up with this one,” he said. “Like David said, it illustrates my career on and off the ice. I was known for breakaways early in my career and in the early ‘90s, so this was a perfect photo that we picked.”
Lemieux scored 690 goals and 1,723 points in his Hall of Fame career. His trophy case is filled with six Art Ross Trophies (scoring champion), four Lester B. Pearson Awards (outstanding player), Three Hart Trophies (MVP), two Conn Smythe Trophies (playoff MVP), one Calder Trophy (rookie of the year), one Masterton Trophy (perseverance and dedication to hockey), one Olympic Gold Medal and three Stanley Cup championships.
And best of all is that the Quebec native adopted the city of Pittsburgh as his home after the Penguins drafted him first overall in 1984. In an era of free agency and team’s losing star players, Lemieux was always a Penguin, and will always be a Pittsburgher.
“That’s why I decided to stay here. I love the people here,” he said. “I can go anywhere in the town and people say hello and respect my privacy, which is the most important for me. That’s why I love living here. I can go play golf and people are very respectful of my privacy and my time. That’s why I decided to stay here and live here and raise my four kids here.”
Lemieux was accompanied by his wife, Nathalie, and their four children, his two brothers and their families and his mother at the ceremony (his father couldn’t make it due to illness). And for Lemieux, a very family-oriented man, it was a fitting way to receive the honor.
“To have my family here was the most important,” Lemieux said. “My mom was here. My dad couldn’t make the trip because he’s not feeling so well. But to have my two brothers here with their families as well, it meant a lot to me.”