December 27, 2000 was like a bonus Christmas present for Pittsburgh Penguins fans. On that day, franchise savior Mario Lemieux began what would be an incredible return to the game with a great performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
His first year was such a great success that he ended up being one of the three final nominees for the Hart Trophy. He managed to do so despite playing an abbreviated season in which he more or less got back into playing form on the fly. (His teammate Jaromir Jagr also was nominated for the Hart, but neither Penguin won the MVP that year).
While Lemieux worked all his magic in the Igloo, the Consol Energy Center will feature an easy-to-justify statue of the team’s greatest player and owner. Pittsburgh-area radio personality Mark Madden says that the team will unveil the statue on December 27, 2010, the tenth anniversary of Lemieux’s first game back in a Penguins uniform.
Sources indicate that 12.27.10 – the 10-year anniversary of Mario Lemieux’s comeback – will be the day the Penguins and Consol Energy Center unveil a statue of Lemieux outside the building. This will be just five days before the Winter Classic at Heinz Field and part of a week-long hockey extravaganza for the city.
The statue will reportedly depict Lemieux, with the puck, beating a defenseman. No word if the defenseman in question will be Ray Bourque, the Hall-of-Fame blueliner so frequently victimized by Mario throughout their careers.
But it should be. Mario sure made Bourque look like a statue back then.
Madden writes that Lemieux didn’t want the statue, but “common sense” prevailed. I agree completely; if the Los Angeles Kings have a Wayne Gretzky statue than surely the Penguins should have one for Super Mario.
The best part of the story might be that the ownership group – rather than fans or taxpayers – are the ones footing the bill for the likeness.
It’s hard to believe that ten years passed since Lemieux’s outstanding comeback. Will Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin one day be looked upon with the same reverence as Lemieux? They might end up being close to – if not better than – the player he was, but few players meant more to a team than Lemieux did to the Penguins. In any sport, really.
(H/T to Sean Leahy.)