Penguins co-owner/chairman Mario Lemieux has already won the Stanley Cup twice while playing for the team in 1991 and ’92. Now, 10 years after resurrecting the Penguins from bankruptcy, he is four wins shy of achieving the same feat, but this time as an executive.
“That was a goal of mine when I bought the team to one day win the Stanley Cup as an owner,” Lemieux said. “It would be a dream come true, buying the team in ’99, rebuilding it with the people that we have in the organization. It should be a special moment if it ever happens.”
Lemieux, who spoke with the media prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday night, came close to accomplishing that goal last season when the Penguins faced these same Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. However, the battle-tested Red Wings hoisted the Cup after taking the series in six games over the novice Penguins.
“We had an opportunity last year that didn’t go as planned,” Lemieux said. “But hopefully this year the outcome will be different. I see our team as having a different chance this year. We have a different mindset, different style of play and hopefully this year is our year.”
But hopefully this year the outcome will be different. I see our team as having a different chance this year. We have a different mindset, different style of play and hopefully this year is our year. - Mario Lemieux
Despite losing in last year’s championship showdown, Lemieux believes this year's team learned from last season and is better prepared to compete for hockey holiest trophy.
“I think we have a little bit more experience now, having been there last year, seeing what it takes to be a champion,” he said. “I don’t think our kids were quite prepared to play in the Final. I think this year, it feels different. The focus is there. The way we’re approaching each and every game, we feel we have a chance to win every time we step on the ice. It’s a totally different mindset than we had last year.”
The Penguins have come a long way since Lemieux bought the team in 1999. They’ve had many ups and downs, but under Lemieux’s oversight they’ve built themselves into the NHL’s model franchise: equipped with a star-filled lineup that can compete for a championship every season, sells out for every game the last two-plus seasons and a new arena on the way.
“I knew it was going to take a few years to build a great club in Pittsburgh,” Lemieux said. “We went through a very difficult four or five years, finishing last or close to last and getting the draft picks that we needed to rebuild. The lottery didn’t hurt either, getting Sidney (Crosby) in Pittsburgh with (Evgeni) Malkin, (Marc-Andre) Fleury, (Jordan) Staal and the rest of the group. I knew it was going to take a while to get back on top but now that we are, we’re well positioned for the next few years with the cores players that we’ve signed for the next couple of years.”
When the puck drops during the Stanley Cup Final, Lemieux will get to sit back and watch the drama unfold with his family close by his side.
“For me personally and my family, it’s been a lot of fun following these guys every game,” Lemieux said. “It’s been so much fun this year seeing the team, especially the last month of the season, turn it around from where we were. Then in the playoffs, to play the way we did and see the team getting better game after game. I see the focus in all of the guys, hoping to get to the Final this year and achieve our goal to win the Stanley Cup.”