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Mario Lemieux
Few would dispute Mario Lemieux's position as one of the most naturally gifted players in NHL history. His offensive wizardry, elan and leadership brought the Pittsburgh Penguins from the bottom to the top of the hockey world. Lemieux amassed 613 goals and 1,494 points in 745 regular season contests while capturing a vast array of individual awards and accolades. He also produced 155 points in 89 post-season matches and led the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup triumphs in 1991 and 1992. In 1987 Lemieux teamed with Wayne Gretzky to lead Team Canada past the USSR in the riveting three-game final of the Canada Cup. His winning tally late in the third period of the deciding encounter was a landmark moment for a generation of hockey fans.
Mario LemieuxBorn in Montreal, Quebec on October 5, 1965, Lemieux took his initial strides on a small rink behind a neighbourhood church. He went on to excel at every level during his amateur development which included an eight-year association with the Ville Emard Hurricanes. Lemieux next moved on to the Montreal Concordia club in the Quebec AAA Midget League. He made the transition to the Quebece Major Junior Hockey League look easy and went on to accumulate a phenomenal 247 goals and 562 points in three seasons. He scored 184 points in 1982-83 and was placed on the QMJHL Second All-Star Team. During his last year as an amateur, Lemieux established Canadian junior records with 133 goals and 282 points while leading the Laval Voisins to the QMJHL championship and an appearance in the Memorial Cup tournament. At the end of the year he was chosen the QMJHL and Canadian Major Junior Player of the year, earned a position on the QMJHL First All-Star Team and was named the top player in the QMJHL playoffs as well as the league's top NHL prospect.
The Pittsburgh Penguins opened the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by making Mario Lemieux the obvious first overall selection. He quickly made his presence felt by scoring a brilliant goal against the Boston Bruins on his first NHL shift. Lemieux went on to score 43 goals and 100 points. He was presented the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the league and earned a placement on the NHL's All-Rookie Team. Rather than experience the "sophomore jinx," Lemieux rose to the status of superstar with a 141-point performance in 1985-86. That year he won his first of four Lester B. Pearson Awards as the NHL's most valuable player as chosen by his peers, along with his first of four selections to the NHL Second All-Star Team.
Mario LemieuxBetween 1986 and 1990 Lemieux continued to score and pile up awards. The 1987-88 season was important in that he won his first of three Hart Trophies as the league's most valuable player while capturing his first of six Art Ross Trophies as the top scorer in the NHL. Lemieux also earned his first of five selections to the NHL First All-Star Team. He registered a personal high of 199 points in 1988-89 and got the Penguins within one game of the Stanley Cup finals. The squad finally gelled in the 1990-91 post-season. After accumulating a decent 84 points during the regular season, Pittsburgh upset the Boston Bruins in the semifinals before outlasting the Minnesota North Stars in a six-game final series. Lemieux was the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the top performer in the post-season after scoring 44 points in 23 playoff contests. In 1991-92 a seasoned Penguins squad swept the Bruins in a semifinal rematch and did likewise to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals. Lemieux scored 34 points in only 15 games to become only the second player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in consecutive seasons.
The 1992-93 campaign brought unforseen challenges to Lemieux. In January 1993, he was diagnosed with a form of Hodgkins Disease. After the inital shock, he underwent treatment and began preparing to return to his team. In one of his greatest personal triumphs, Lemieux returned to the Penguins and led his team to an NHL record 17 consecutive victories. He played briefly in 1993-94 but was forced to take the 1994-95 campaign off because of a deteriorating back condition. Lemieux returned to the NHL with a vengeance in 1995-96. He scored 69 goals and 161 points during the regular season. This was followed by 27 points in 18 playoff games while leading Pittsburgh to an appearance in the Eastern Conference final.
The 1996-97 season represented Lemieux's swan song. He led the league in scoring for the sixth time with 122 points. More significantly, Lemieux received standing ovations and congratulations from the opposing players everywhere he played in the latter stages of the season. Appropriately he scored in the Penguins' final playoff game when they were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers on April 26, 1997. The final whistle in this contest signified the conclusion of one of the most remarkable individual chapters in NHL history.