Mario calls it a career one more time. If he decided to come back six months from now I would still want to see him play! He mentioned in the press conference yesterday that he no longer felt he was contributing on a level he felt comfortable with. Oh, not to mention he recently had a slight heart problem along with owning a team struggling to stay alive. Did I forget to mention that he also battled and beat Hodgkin’s disease during the 92-93 NHL campaign where he missed a month and still won the scoring title?
In the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s Mario dominated play. Standing 6’4” and 230 pounds and drafted first overall in the 1984 NHL draft he was the player that the great city of Pittsburgh was looking for. Back in 1984-85 most players with Mario’s size were regulated to one or two minutes per game and most likely had arms that dragged down to the ice and ended up sitting in the penalty box for either 5, 10 or 15 minutes!
Like all great players in any sport he will be compared to others. In fact, when I was playing in the 80’s and 90’s the question came up from time to time between players as well as between extended family and friends. Wayne or Mario? Who was better? Not many of those conversations ended quickly as both players displayed a grace on ice like no other expect each other.
My Mario story: As a member of the Devils I was injured in a game versus Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh. We were big rivals at that time and it was another big game. Pittsburgh was short handed and Mario was on the ice. He broke up the play in the neutral zone and took off down the left side of the ice.(slight roar of the crowd) The Devils had two defensemen skating backwards along with one forward pressuring Mario towards the boards. He made a move to the inside of the ice on the right defensemen and pulled the puck back to the outside and started a turn towards the boards.(louder roar from the crowd) The defensemen stopped and started to skate forward to pursue. The Devils forward went straight at Mario in an attempt to hit him and in one motion Mario slipped the forwards check and backhanded the puck behind the defenseman and did a 360. (almost deafening roar) Both the forward and the defensemen were now gone and that left one defensemen and the goalie. Mario turned the last defensemen inside and out and pulled the goalie way out of position to slide the puck into the empty net. (vibrations on your face roar of the crowd!)
During the short 15 to 20 second span I forgot who I was and who I played for. The crowd and the noise of the crowd with each move transformed me into a fan. When Mario scored I stood up with both arms in the air all in one move not unlike the rest of the crowd and in that split second I realized what I had done and quickly sat down.
Could you imagine what his numbers would be like if the current rules were enforced back in 1986? Even if they were not, imagine what numbers he would have put up without having to beat illnesses and overcome such great adversities as he has had to do over his career. In the end, you cannot compare Mario to another player from the past of the future. Mario was Mario and there will never be another like him.