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The Comeback

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Bob Grove takes us back to December 27, 2000, when Mario Lemieux came out of the owner's box and stepped on to the ice, and into the history books!

The buzz started in early December, first as a rumor, then as an unconfirmed report, until it took a city – and the sports world – by storm. Mario Lemieux? Coming back?

Lemieux had retired as a Pittsburgh Penguin in 1997 at the tender age of 31, having battled cancer and multiple back surgeries in a career marked by breathtaking performances and two Stanley Cups. He’d won six NHL scoring titles, three MVP trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies as MVP of the playoffs. He had nothing left to prove.

Oh, and in the interim, he’d assembled a group of investors to buy the Penguins out of bankruptcy and now was the first former player to serve as owner and chairman of the board.

Coming back?

Yes. After a three-and-a-half year absence, feeling revitalized and inspired by his young son Austin, Lemieux made the decision to return to the lineup as a player and become the first player-owner of the modern era. The target date was Dec. 27 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Good luck if you didn’t already have a ticket.

The mood that night at Mellon Arena was beyond electric – a sellout crowd of 17,148 already wedged in its seats by the pre-game warmup. Lemieux’s retired No. 66 jersey was removed from the rafters in a stunning pregame ceremony, and his flair for the dramatic reappeared early as he recorded an assist 33 seconds later.

Lemieux finished with a goal and two assists in a 5-0 Penguins victory, but the stats and the details didn't matter. The rumors were true after all. He was back.

Photos from that night:

Lemieux's retired No. 66 jersey being removed from the rafters prior to the game (Getty Images)

Lemieux skating on the ice for pre-game warmups (Getty Images)

Photos from the PNC display on the suite level of CONSOL Energy Center:

The entire display (left); An actual media credential from that game (right)

The display description
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