EXCERPT | Oct. 15, 1984
Leading the March
Mario Lemieux put the Penguins on the winning path
The success of the Penguins traces to one man: Mario Lemieux. From his first scrimmage he lifted the last-place team—as E.M. Swift reported—and went on to score 1,723 points in 915 games, leading Pittsburgh to its only two Stanley Cups. He rescued the team from bankruptcy in 1999 by becoming principal owner and now has the club in its second straight finals.
Let posterity note that the light at the end of the tunnel that is Pittsburgh Penguins hockey was glimpsed at 2:29 p.m. (EDT) on Sept. 20, 1984, when Mario Lemieux scored his first goal in an intrasquad scrimmage. True, Lemieux's goal came against the NHL's most inept defense—the Pens allowed a league-high 390 goals last season—but from the reaction of the 400 Pittsburgh diehards who came to see the NHL's top draft choice, the most highly touted rookie since Guy Lafleur, you would have thought Lemieux had just scored the game-winning goal in a Stanley Cup finals.
Taking a pass in the slot, the 6'4", 200-pound Lemieux, 19, tapped the puck through a defenseman's skates, sidestepped deftly, then swept up the puck and shot it past startled goalie Michel Dion. The arena went bonkers—"Our savior has arrived!" screamed one fan—and for minutes the crowd buzzed as if witness to a miracle, a penguin taking flight, say. In the next hour Lemieux drew gasps from the crowd half a dozen more times, snaking the puck away from defensemen with his amazing reach, stickhandling in maddening circles, slithering perfect passes. "Mario did some great things today, scary things," gushed Penguins scout Bruce Haralson. "He did things only Gretzky can do. That's what's scary—to think there might be another one."
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