Yesterday, an icon of the NHL officially announced his retirement. Mario Lemieux, a player who single-handedly rescued the Pittsburgh Penguins from imminent death, and won them multiple Stanley Cups, finally revealed that his battered body would no longer allow him to continue to participate in the sport that he loves.
I am a Philadelphia Flyers fan, so it is often hard for me to say nice things about other hockey players (actually, that is not true, because I am a hockey fan, as well). However, there are a few athletes (in every sport) who deserve accolades from everybody. Lemieux is one of those.
I was lucky enough to have been able to see both Lemieux and Gretzky play – not that it was a joy to watch them, especially against the orange-and-black. Every time they were on the ice against the Flyers, I felt helpless. I knew that sooner or later they would find the twine. They were magicians with the puck, and when they came to Philly, it always felt like more than just a hockey game.
Lemieux was more of a thorn in the Flyers side (even though Gretzky helped defeat the Flyers in two Stanley cups), probably because the Flyers face him more often. From the start, the Flyers seemed to be Lemieux’s bitch – even in the early years, when the Flyers won most of the games.
Philly fans who get a bad rap (see any article about throwing snowballs at Santa, or Michael Irvin) actually probably showed Lemieux the most amount of respect – twice. The first time was when Mario came back from Hogkin’s Disease treatments – his first game was in Philly. Flyer fans, for a few minutes, became Penguins fans (actually, Lemieux fans), giving him a standing ovation for what seemed to be ever. He was visibly choked up (funny how we don’t hear about these things in the national media). The second time was when he announced his first retirement – again, it was against the Flyers, and again the fans showed their appreciation.
I will miss him, and I hope that the new stars of the NHL will reach those heights – a tall order for anybody.