Mario Lemieux

PHT remembers hockey video games: How not to settle Gretzky vs. Lemieux

Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of, ones you fondly recall, and ones we’d all like to forget. This time, we ponder the worst way to settle the Mario Lemieux vs. Wayne Gretzky debate: by playing their shaky video games around 1991 (or 1992).

For years — and probably in some cases, to this day — hockey fans debated Gretzky vs. Lemieux. Both sides certainly had ammo, too.

Gretzky doesn’t just lead the NHL in all-time goals (894) and points (2,857). It’s possible no one will ever generate as many points as Gretzky had assists (1,963 assists; Jaromir Jagr currently sits second all-time in points with 1,921). With four Stanley Cup trophies to go with all of those numbers, it’s pretty tough to make an argument against number 99 being the GOAT.

But, again, Lemieux fans boasted some ammo. “The Magnificent One” boasted stunning talent, and owned highlight reels with beautiful goals. Lemieux stood as the greatest player in the NHL while undergoing chemotherapy.

Most of us learned to enjoy all the greats, but if you want to have that barroom debate, you can probably find out.

Just don’t settle it based on which player’s likeness adorned the superior video game in 1991 (or 1992, really). Let’s look back at “Mario Lemieux Hockey” for the Sega Genesis, and what turned out to be a few versions of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” ranging from PC to the NES.

Mario Lemieux Hockey, 1991, Sega Genesis

Mario Lemieux Hockey title screen Gretzky video games
via Sega/YouTube

Beginning with the start screen, you can see a pretty solid likeness of Lemieux. Now, the Stanley Cup? Not nearly as spot-on, although that might have also boiled down to Sega not wanting to get sued.

After watching gameplay footage, I see some similarities between “Mario Lemieux Hockey” and “Tecmo Super Hockey.” Both made some similar choices with perspective, player switching, and quasi-cutscenes.

That said, “Tecmo Super Hockey” came out years after “Mario Lemieux Hockey,” yet number 66’s game arguably still looked better. It seemed like a game that was friendly on the eyes, relative to its time period.

But judging from makeshift reviews I’ve found, there wasn’t much substance to back up the sizzle. This “Classic Game Room” review lacked much in positivity, and someone at Gamefaqs called it the worst hockey game they ever played.

Still, you have to at least give the fight graphics some love:

video game fight MLH
Lol, and ow. (via Sega/YouTube)

Lemieux’s game sometimes included a puck?

Ultimately, the most remarkable things about “Mario Lemieux” and various versions of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” probably boil down to side notes.

In the case of Lemieux’s game, Sega shipped some copies with a freaking puck.

 

I’m sure retailers loved it when they tried to sell this absolute unit, via Sega Retro:

Mario Lemieux Hockey box Sega Genesis puck Gretzky video games
via Sega/Sega Retro

OK, this is all actually pretty tremendous. That said, I can imagine a snarky review reading “You’ll have more fun with the puck than the cartridge in the box.”

Wayne Gretzky Hockey: several versions, mixed results?

Grading “Wayne Gretzky” is more elusive, much like it was difficult to consistently land checks on “The Great One.”

There are multiple similar-looking versions of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey,” including the 1988 NES version that made these fellows quite miserable:

It seems like the PC version looked quite a bit better in 1988. Either that, or I’m merely entranced by the “MS Paint” vibes of the fight video:

Fight in Wayne Gretzky Hockey video game Lemieux
via Bethesda Softworks (Game Studios)/YouTube

If you insisted on playing “Mario Lemieux Hockey” vs. a “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” video game of the time, it might be fairest to choose “Wayne Gretzky Hockey 3,” a PC release from 1992.

But, uh, again … that seems like a shaky exercise in curiosity.

Another shaky game precludes a video game titan

Fans of video games would probably do a double take at “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” titles when they realize that “Bethesda Softworks” made it.

Bethesda Softworks on boards Wayne Gretzky Hockey
via Bethesda Softworks (Game Studios)/YouTube

If that doesn’t ring a bell, consider that Bethesda is the studio behind mega-popular title such as “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” which sold untold millions of copies (one report indicated 30 million by November 2016).

Indeed, Bethesda pumped out sports video games stretching back to 1986, but then they really hit their stride once the company focused more on “nerds” than “jocks.”

With all of that in mind, it’s still surprising that the company that pumped out “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” eventually developed … this.

(That said, I can definitely see some of the roots of “Gridiron!” in “Wayne Gretzky Hockey.”)

Interestingly, “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” and Bethesda don’t represent the only example of a game company going from humble, hockey game beginnings to huge hits. As mentioned in this look back at Nintendo 64 hockey video games, Treyarch went from making the ill-received “Olympic Hockey ’98” to working on the “Call of Duty” titles.

Luckily for hockey fans, there would be several other video games starring Wayne Gretzky, and they were generally much better.

You could probably wedge Michael Scott’s favorite Gretzky quote about missing 100 percent of the shots you don’t take in there somewhere. Ultimately, though, playing “Mario Lemieux Hockey” or a version of “Wayne Gretzky Hockey” might be only slightly more enjoyable than waking up to a grilled foot.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Puck Treasures: The Mario Lemieux candy bun

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Puck Treasures is all about showcasing unique pieces of hockey memorabilia. Have an interesting item? Send us an email at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

You know you’ve made it when you get something named after you. It could be a street, a school, a beer… maybe even a candy bar.

We know the famous “Reggie” bar named after baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in the late 1970s.

Those “Reggie” bars were produced by Standard Brands’ Curtiss Candy Company. After several ownership changes, the D.L. Clark Company, based in Pittsburgh, decided in 1992 to honor the captain of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

Behold, the Mario Lemieux Bun!

Worthpoint.com

Each bun, which featured chocolate, peanuts and caramel, contained one Lemieux hockey card. Select packages included cards autographed by Le Manifique. Check out Sal Barry’s review of the three-card set.

According to the Post-Gazette, Lemieux became the first Pittsburgh athlete with his own candy since the Bubby Bar, named after Steelers quarterback Bubby Brister. It was also the first time an NHL player was featured on an internationally marketed candy bar.

There are still some Mario Buns available on eBay, if you’re interested in collectibles or eating 27-year-old candy.

Too bad they couldn’t have teamed up with Jaromir Jagr peanut butter a few years later for a mega-powers bar.

PREVIOUS PUCK TREASURES:
The 170-year-old hockey stick valued at $3.5 million

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Penguins owners donating money to health outlets

Pittsburgh Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle are each contributing $100,000 to assist local health outlets dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The joint $200,000 donation will be split equally between Highmark Health and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The Highmark Health donation is earmarked for creating a mobile COVID-19 testing unit that will focus on under-served populations in the Pittsburgh area.

The donation to UPMC will benefit the UPMC Children’s Hospital Helpers Fund, which supports families and caregivers who are impacted by COVID-19.

Book excerpt: Phil Bourque on assisting Lemieux’s magnificent goal

This excerpt from If These Walls Could Talk: Pittsburgh Penguins by Phil Bourque with Josh Yohe is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bookshop.org, or www.triumphbooks.com/WallsPenguins.

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Heading into the 1991 Stanley Cup Final, we respected the North Stars but definitely felt like we were the better team. They made the playoffs with a sub-.500 record and, somehow, got hotter than hell and pulled off a bunch of upsets in the playoffs. When the series began on May 15, we were feeling good about ourselves. Really good. 

Then, of course, we lose Game 1. Our fans were upset, but we really weren’t. Honestly, we were so comfortable in that position. We probably wouldn’t have known what to do if we had won the first game of a series. But we had an issue in all those Game 1 losses: we gave up a ton of goals. We played a loose game defensively and lost 5–4. We fell into bad habits early in all those series. It was our instinct just to see how many goals we could score and, quite honestly, that was good enough on a lot of nights. There’s firepower, and then there’s the kind of firepower we could produce. Only when we got in trouble did we really start to bear down defensively. 

Game 2 was a different story and gave us the greatest goal of Mario’s career. I’m proud to say I assisted on it, even if I made the degree of difficulty a little greater. We were up 2–1 in the second period, but the North Stars were starting to press us. We weren’t comfortable just yet. And even though we absolutely thought we were the better team, we couldn’t lose that game. Fall down 2–0 with the first two games at home and you’re pretty much screwed. 

Tommy made a save and the puck caromed off his pads, like always. You always had to be aware of that with Tommy. His pads were a little different, and off them, it was like the puck was pretty much bouncing off boards. So, I corralled the rebound. Then, I heard a noise. I knew exactly what that noise meant. The big guy wanted the puck. 

Mario had different kinds of yells, and we all knew them. Normally, he would give you a certain yell. It was his way of telling you, “You have time, just give me a crisp pass.” That was the ordinary Mario yell. But every now and then, you’d get a different one. It was more of a loud yip. Short. Loud. More direct. That’s when you knew to get him the f—— puck. So, I heard this noise, and, even though we were in our own territory, I knew to give him the puck as quickly as possible. I only needed to hear it once. It was different than any noise I had ever heard him make on the ice. He really, really wanted this puck. So, what did I do? I got him the puck. It wasn’t a good pass. In fact, I never looked at him. I had a feel for where he was, so I just delivered it in his direction. Remember, Mario had the longest reach of just about anyone who ever played, so I knew if I got the puck somewhere in the 412 area code, he was going to be fine. I just threw it in his direction. The pass was well behind him, but it didn’t matter. He never even broke stride. He reached back and gathered the puck. It didn’t matter that the pass I threw him was a grenade that was almost out of reach. What happened next was hockey history. I was on my way to the bench after I made the pass, but I paused for a second and got a good look at what happened, because I knew he was about to do something special. He never disappointed you in that way. I don’t know what it was, and I actually don’t think he could even tell you why those moments popped up. But every now and then, Mario just felt like putting on a show. I truly believe he had no control over it. For whatever reason, it just happened organically. That was one of those moments. He was absolutely flying through the neutral zone and two defensemen were left in his way, Neil Wilkinson and Shawn Chambers. Those poor bastards never had a chance.

Earlier in the game, Mario had a similar rush and they shut him down. It wasn’t about to happen twice. He put the puck right between Chambers’ legs and blew through both of them. Then, for reasons I’ll never understand, Jon Casey tried to poke check Mario. He kept trying to do it all series. Good luck. Mario went to the backhand and that was that. Never in my life have I, nor will I ever again, see a goal like that. Time stood still for just a moment. On the bench, all we could do was laugh and say, “Holy s—.” That’s it. We had nothing else to say. 

Everyone has their favorite Mario goal, and there have been so many: 

  • The day in Quebec when he carried players on his back and scored
  • The day he saved our season in overtime in Washington in 1988
  • Going between Ray Bourque’s legs and beating Andy Moog
  • The Game 1 winner in 1992 against the Hawks
  • His breakaway against the Flyers in 1997 in what we thought
    was his last home shift
  • The Canada Cup clincher in 1987

Hell, there are hundreds of others to pick from, because no one scored highlight-reel goals like the big guy. Not even close. But that goal was special, both for the remarkable athleticism it required and because of the timing. Game 2, Stanley Cup Final. It’s a close game, we’re in a little bit of trouble, and we desperately need to win. And he pulls off a goal like that. Give me a break.

At that moment, I truly believed we were going to win that series, and I wasn’t alone. We all believed it. If we were playing a powerful team from the Campbell Conference like the Blackhawks or Oilers, it would have been a different story. But we knew we were better than Minnesota. 

PHT Morning Skate: How NHL can award Stanley Cup; Will cap decrease?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• One NHL coach explains what this pause is like for him. “I can’t speak for every team, but I think most teams, their staff is being told, ‘If you feel you need to go to your house outside your city, then go ahead.'” (Sportsnet)

• If there’s a long delay in the season, hockey trainer Dan Ninkovich believes the NHL should pull the plug on the season. (Ottawa Citizen)

• How can the NHL award the Stanley Cup if play resumes? (Broad Street Hockey)

• Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz is confident that his management team will be able to figure out the issues the team has been having. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• This Russian great grandmother discovered her passion for playing hockey at 80 years old. (Reuters)

• PHT’s Adam Gretz breaks down one of Mario Lemieux’s underrated goals. (Pensburgh)

• The NHL’s reduced revenue could result in the salary cap decreasing. (My NHL Trade Rumors)

• The ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks explain what life was like for them leading up to the league’s decision to cancel play. (KC Mavericks)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.