Penguins owner Mario Lemieux has always served as an inspiration to others. During the 1992-93 season he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease in early January, underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and returned to the lineup on March 2, when he picked up a goal and an assist against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Seventeen years later, Lemieux’s courageous comeback continues to inspire fans throughout the world. On Thursday morning, Lemieux invited fellow Hodgkin’s survivor Michael Saikali, 11, to skate with him at Mellon Arena.
“Anytime that Make-A-Wish calls it is always welcome by the whole organization and myself,” Lemieux said. “That is the least we can do to make him feel better.”
Saikali is a die-hard Penguins and Lemieux fan from Ottawa, Ontario. As part of his recovery, his wish was to skate with the Penguins owner.
Thanks to the Eastern Ontario chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, Michael was able to realize his dream as he, his parents, Habib and France, and his two younger brothers all came to Pittsburgh.
“To make a young kid’s dream come true is just unbelievable,” Habib Saikali said. “This is more than what we expected. Words can’t express or explain the emotions I am going through. This is unbelievable.”
“The fact that he has Hodgkin’s (Disease) like Mario, there is some significance for him,” France Saikali said. “Michael is a Penguins fan. He admires every player and he admires Mario and everything Mario has done for the team. This was very wonderful and it means a lot to him.”
Michael and Lemieux took the ice together shortly before 10 a.m. They warmed up by passing back and forth down the ice before breaking into a series of drills, which included one-timers from the slot, breakaways, and skating around the faceoff circles and taking shots towards the empty net.
“It was so exciting because I always wanted to skate with him,” Michael said after. “He is really good and still has a good shot.”
Michael, who has been in remission for about six months, has been able to resume playing hockey this season. He made his local travel team just weeks after finishing treatments.
“For him to be in remission and to have made his competitive team in Ottawa is quite a comeback for Michael,” France Saikali said. “I think that and having a lot in common with Mario with this disease shows a lot of hope for his recovery.”
After Michael and Lemieux finished their session, Mario had another surprise for the youngster – he gave him the stick he used. Michael said he cannot wait to return home to Ottawa to show it off to all his friends.
“We can go back home and say that the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Make-A-Wish Foundation are just two incredible organizations,” Habib Saikali said.