Mario Lemieux, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, announced his retirement this morning. The 40-year-old cited health concerns
as his main reason for quitting. "I'm here today to announce my retirement from hockey," Lemieux told a packed news conference at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. "It's always a difficult decision to make for any athlete but the time has come. It's in the best interests of myself, my family and the Penguins." Lemieux was excited to start this season with the Penguins signed several free agents and drafting rookie phenom Sidney Crosby
to be at one time, considered as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Mario's great NHL career started in 1984 after he was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft. After an initial contract dispute, Lemieux lit it up in the NHL. Scoring a goal on his first NHL shift and first NHL shot, he would go on to score 100 points in his rookie season and win the Calder Trophy. That was followed by several seasons of amazing offensive numbers along with numerous awards and accolades. He was once again "Magnificent" in the 1987 Canada Cup - scoring the winning goal to defeat the Soviet Red Army team. Even as he was suffering with back problems, he led his Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. In 1993 he was diagnosed with a Nodular Lymphocytic form of Hodgkin's disease and underwent radiation treatments. Lemieux
returned later that season and went on to win the Art Ross trophy as the NHL scoring leader.
He sat out the 1994-95 season to recover from fatigue and returned to win his third Hart Trophy as league MVP and fifth title with 161 points (69 goals, 92 assists). In the spring of 1997 he announced his retirement and was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Three years later in the fall of 2000 he made a comeback at age 35. He and his partners took over the ownership of the Penguins as he was owed signficant salaries by the previous owners. In 2002 he lead Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in Salt Lake City. The 2003-04 NHL season was injury plagued and his return this year looked promising with the rule changes and what most experts thought was a "stacked" Penguins team.
Unfortunately things did not work out for the Pens and Mario realized after his heart scare that he could not compete at this level. He was no slouch this season, but he wanted to go out with some dignity. "I can no longer play at the level I was accustomed to in the past," he added. "That has been very frustrating for me throughout this past year."
Here's wishing the "Magnificent One"
the very best in his health and future endevours. Adieu, Mario Lemieux.