August 21, 2008

Gretzky v. Lemieux

Sean is on a much-needed vacation at the moment in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. In his place are a bevy of all-star bloggers from around the Internets.

Today, Joe Pelletier from
Greatest Hockey Legends will be your kind host.

With all the talk of the rise of hockey's new era, with the soon to be
epic battle of Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin already topping
the card, it is pretty easy to day dream about the last great hockey
duel – Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux.

For much of my youth, that comparison always was there. It was
impossible to avoid. For a decade there had been only two choices.

And you had to choose.

Growing up on Canada's west coast, I was born to be a Gretzky fan,
even though I cheered on the sad-sack hometown Vancouver Canucks as my
team. It was impossible to not witness the glory years of the Edmonton
Oilers, though. Always on TV in the west, I cheered on The Great One
more than any other player in my lifetime. I continued to
enthusiastically cheer him on during the Hollywood years, hoping
against fate that he could capture another Stanley Cup down there. And
of course, time and again he brought glory to our country.

You could definitely suggest that the reason that I, as an
impressionable youngster, became the rabid hockey fan that I am today
is Wayne Gretzky.

Sadly, I never gave Mario Lemieux the same chance.

Part of it is due to the time zone differences and not having access
to many Penguins games on TV back in those days, but largely it was
because I was a Gretzky fan.

Right or wrong, most definitely wrong with the hindsight of adulthood,
that's just the way it was. As much as you secretly appreciated both,
a true fan had to choose one or the other.

I chose Gretzky, largely because of west coast bias and the fact he
was long established before this distant easterner who dared to
challenge his greatness arrived on the scene. But I also chose Gretzky
because he was personable. You could not help but want the guy at the
top of hockey's food chain, setting the standards not only for future
hockey stars, but your children and for yourself.

For much of Lemieux's career, he was dubbed as cold, indifferent and
aloof, although it turned out he was just misunderstood. Later in his
career he finally became the charming prince everyone wants the top
player in hockey to be, the impossible standard that Gretzky set.


My attitude towards Mario Lemieux changed briefly after leading the
nation to victory at the Canada Cup in 1987 and again after his
amazing comeback from a difficult bout with cancer. My mindset on
Lemieux had changed, but somehow it was always more about appreciation
of him than love of him, and more respect for his abilities than
admiration for his ways.

As a result, I ended up not truly experiencing Mario Lemieux's
greatness, a greatness that in some ways surpassed Gretzky's. I saw
the highlights on TV, and the two Stanley Cup finals on CBC, but I
missed so much. The guy battled through chronic back injuries, and
cancer for Christ's sake, and I never warmed up to him until it was
too late, all because I was a Gretzky guy.

So heed my advice, hockey fans. While I watched Gretzky play hockey as
if he were conducting his orchestra, I missed Lemieux's one man band
of equally epic shinny music. Don't be silly enough to think you must
choose between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Take in
everything they have to offer. Don't just appreciate them, admire them

Ballhype: hype it up!


Anthony Woods said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony Woods said...

(Sorry, messed up my first post)The problem with Mario for me is that I've read several places that he would rather have been a pro me(as jaded as it may sound)it sounds like he doesn't appreciate the talent he just so happens to have. I am not knocking any amount of work he did to be a pro athlete and surviving cancer is amazing in it's own right. As someone with no natural hockey talent what-so-ever, I would sell my would to have 1/10th of his talent to make the NHL.

Going Five Hole said...

So you have a skewed view of Lemieux's entire career over something you read? Did it have quotes from Mario himself?

I'm pretty sure Lemieux didn't develop his golfing talents until after his career got underway.

I would think his involvement in hockey from away from the rink and in the owner's box shows he understands what he means (meant) to Pittsburgh and that it was never taken for granted.

Korn said...

Wayne Gretzky once said that Mario could win a scoring championship with a broken stick. The guy just had that much natural talent. did he take complete advantage of it in the early years? No, many people who are naturally endowed with gifts don't fully appreciate them (Mario was a chain smoker for much of the early part of his career). But watching him was like watching no one else. And he saved hockey in Pittsburgh, arguably three times. He could intentionally hit my dog with his car and I'd say "no problem Mario, you saved hockey in Pittsburgh".