'Excited' Lemieux confirms comeback with Penguins
Updated: Friday December 08, 2000 11:46 PM
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) -- Hall of Fame center Mario Lemieux, one of the greatest players in National Hockey League history, on Friday confirmed reports that he plans a comeback with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he led to two Stanley Cups and now owns.
"I missed the game and missed the challenge of competing," Lemieux said. "I am excited by the challenge of attempting a comeback. I look forward to the chance to get back on the ice with the players."
To comply with NHL bylaws, Lemieux must resign his position as the Penguins representative on the Board of Governors. It is unclear if he can remain involved in the club's day-to-day operations, but NHL officials will surely clear any hurdles that stand in the way of a return of one of the league's greatest draws.
After battling Hodgkin's Disease and chronic back problems, Lemieux retired following the 1996-97 season. At the time, however, it was not the illness nor injuries he cited for leaving. He said the game had lost its appeal for him with so much clutching and grabbing keeping the most skilled players from performing at top levels.
He now feels that enforcement of new rules against dangerous stick work and obstruction had changed things for the better in the NHL.
"I really like our team and think we have a chance to compete for a championship. And it would be great for me, as a father, to enable my four children to see me play the game."
Lemieux said he will make no further public comment on his return until Bettman has a chance to brief the NHL Board of Governors at a Monday meeting.
The return of an NHL legend after retirement is not unprecedented. Gordie Howe retired from the Detroit Red Wings at age 43 and came back to play for the Hartford Whalers. Guy Lafleur retired at age 34 from the Montreal Canadiens in 1985 and returned to play for the New York Rangers three years later. An owner playing for his team is more unorthodox.
Lemieux, 35, said he has been working out with weights and skating but set no timetable for his return to action.
After putting the Penguins on the hockey map by leading them to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, "Super Mario" again came to the rescue after retiring. He brought the financially strapped club out of bankruptcy last year, becoming the first former player from any of the four major North American sports leagues to own a team.
The top pick in the 1984 draft, Lemieux immediately became Wayne Gretzky's primary rival as the greatest offensive force in the game. Lemieux won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player three times and was a six-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the top scorer.
In 1988-89, Lemieux enjoyed the second most prolific season in NHL history when he collected 85 goals and 114 assists.
He retired as the sixth-leading scorer in NHL history with 613 goals and 881 assists for 1,494 points in 745 games and became the ninth player in NHL history to be inducted into the Hall of Fame without having to wait the mandatory three years after retirement.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.