It was a text message that changed history for the Penguins franchise.
On the morning of Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final between Pittsburgh and Detroit, Pens owner and hockey legend Mario Lemieux delivered a message to every player on the team's roster.
"This is a chance of a lifetime to realize your childhood dream to win a Stanley Cup. Play without fear and you will be successful!! See you at center ice. Mario"
Many of the players awoke to see the message. It gave the team a jolt of life heading into the most important game of their careers.
"It's Game 7. There are so many nerves," recalled captain Sidney Crosby. "You know that someone is winning the Cup that night. Just to get that bred confidence amongst the group."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik said: "Looking back on it, it gave you that level of confidence going in that we were supposed to win."
And win they did. The Pens held on for a 2-1 victory at Joe Louis Arena to capture the third Stanley Cup title in franchise history. And meeting them at center ice to celebrate was Mario.
"I decided to send the text early in the morning to all the guys and hopefully that gave them a little confidence, a little boost to play that night," Lemieux said. "It was an amazing feeling after the game to meet all the guys at center ice."
But what most people don't know is the backstory of how that famous text message came to be.
In a pivotal Game 5 contest in Detroit with the series tied at 2-2, the Red Wings blew out the Pens, 5-0, to push them to the brink of defeat. That's when Lemieux made a critical decision. He decided to enter the Pens locker room following the defeat.
"I remember that night going in (the locker room) and the coaches were disappointed, the team was down, but I thought it was just one game," Lemieux said. "It was important to stay positive at that time."
Lemieux's confidence and presence had a calming effect on the team. And it was noticed by the Pens' general manager at the time.
Ray Shero sent a text to Lemieux that evening, thanking him for being there.
"We really appreciate you doing that. Not a lot of people come around after losses."
To which Lemieux responded: "We are a family and in this together … We don't need anyone that is only with us WIN OR TIE … I really think this is our year. Let's forget about tonight … it happens. We will win Tuesday and win the Cup Friday."
The Pens did indeed win that Tuesday, 2-1, in Game 6 at Mellon Arena. Thus forcing a do-or-die contest in Detroit for all the marbles.
The night before the big game is when Lemieux started entertaining the idea of sending a message to the team. It started with a message to Tom McMillan, the team's V.P. of communications, who was having dinner with Shero, president/CEO David Morehouse, head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coaches Tom Fitzgerald and Mike Yeo.
McMillan's phone buzzed. It was a message from Lemieux: "Tom, Do you think I should have a message posted for the guys in the dressing room before the game tomorrow? Something inspirational, along the lines of 'this is a chance of a lifetime to realize your dream to win the Stanley Cup. See you at center ice. Mario."'
An hour later, "Play without fear and you will be successful!!" was added, and the message complete.
With rave reviews from the dinner table, the team decided to go with it. Lemieux was happy with the choice: "Go for it. We are going to win tomorrow."
The next morning, the Pens' team services director shared Lemieux's message to the team via text.
"It was incredible," Bill Guerin said. "When you get a text like that, not only from your owner, but one of the greatest players ever to play, that's a confidence builder."
To Lemieux, the ending was the most important part.
"I think the key was 'I'll see you at center ice,' just to give them the sense that we have a chance to win tonight and to lift that Cup at center ice," Lemieux said.
Lemieux's assessment was shared by the player that would be the game's MVP, Max Talbot - who scored the only two goals of the game for Pittsburgh. The vision of lifting the Stanley Cup at center ice made an impact.
"The text message puts an image in your head. This is what it's going to look like," Talbot said. "And it absolutely did."
Thanks to Lemieux's message, the team played without fear and rallied for a win. And they saw their owner, standing at center ice as each man achieved their boyhood dream and lifted the Stanley Cup.
It was a simple, but honest message from Lemieux, who never doubted Pittsburgh would become champions. As he shared the evening before the text message was sent:
"I'm not a novelist but I speak from the heart, and I think that might give the boys a little boost before they step on the ice. I hope so anyway!!!"