This week, Joe over at Greatest Hockey Legends issued a challenge to hockey bloggers to post a favorite memory about a retired hockey star. This, of course, is coinciding with Hall of Fame weekend coming up starting Friday. This is my story:
My first ever hockey game was November 5th, 1987.
Somehow, in a household that contained a Rangers fan (brother #1) and two Islander fans (brother #2 and dad), I managed to become a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. My brothers and I don't really know the true reason why it happened, but I assume it's because I liked the penguin as their logo. We didn't mess around either in my house. We all had jersey's to support our teams. Me, being a little runt of a six-year old, didn't get a real-real jersey. My brother Brian bought me two, kid-sized mesh Penguin jersey's (home and away, of course) with "LEMIEUX" and "66" adorned on the back, and what would a Mario jersey be without the ironed on captain's "C".
My Uncle Thomas was awesome enough to finagle me two tickets to an Islander-Penguins game, my first ever. I was nervously-excited during the 25 minute ride with my dad from home to Nassau Coliseum. Being six, I had no idea about seating charts, so when I heard we were sitting in section 124, I thought, "Man, that's probably high up!" My dad assured me that they were really good seats.
The seats couldn't be better. We were two seats next to the railing, which was directly next to the tunnel where the Penguins would come out on to the ice, and about five rows from the ice. "Holy f^$%ing crap", I said to myself when we arrived at the seats (ok, so I had somewhat of a sailor's mouth when I was little). Unfortunately, I couldn't see the players until the hit the ice due to the cover that goes over the walkway from the locker room to the ice. Later in the game, I'd experience my greatest hockey memory. During the second period, Mario Lemieux had some sort of equipment problem and had to come off the ice. Under the covered-tunnel he went and into the locker room. I caught Le Manifique for a split second before he ducked his head and walked down the tunnel. It was awesome. Little did I know five minutes later, I'd come as close as I've been to meeting my hockey idol.
Once Lemieux vanished into the locker room, the security guards pulled back the cover over the tunnel and I had a better view down the path that led to the Penguins dressing room. A few minutes later, as I'm watching the game, I noticed in my peripheral vision, a large figure walk by me. I turned and it was the man himself. The game was still going on, so Lemieux had to wait for a stoppage in play before he could come back on to the ice. I was literally five feet away from him. I stood in awe of his 6'4 stature and the number 66 on his back looked incredibly larger than life. Lemieux stood at the gate for a good 3-4 minutes and I stood in my seat, staring for a good 3-4 minutes. My dad nudged me and said, "Sean, say something to him." I was shy back then, but that wasn't even the reason I stayed silent. When you're a little kid and you come within feet of your sports idol, you're going to lock up and be amazed that your idol is actually real and standing before you.
Lemieux eventually go back on to the ice and the Penguins wound up losing 4-2. I think Mikko Makela scored a late empty-net goal to seal it and I muttered another "f%$" under my breath, but the loss couldn't damper what this little six-year old almost experienced. To this date, I still tell that story and how I came so close to meeting Mario Lemieux. OK, it wasn't like I was able to hold a conversation with the guy, but I almost said hello, and to me, that is my lasting memory.