August 8, 2008

Mario Lemieux Week Day 5: My Favorite Hockey Memory

This was originally posted on November 6, 2007, but considering the subject, it certainly qualifies to end Mario Lemieux Week.

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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.

Ballhype: hype it up!


ricks1683 said...


Great story man. Coming that close to #66 is something really quite special. I've got a similar story to tell...I hope you enjoy!

Growing up, Mario was my idol. My best friend, who i met in HS, also grew up the same. Mario was the man. Neither of us had met him and never had the chance.

In the summer of 2000 I bought a set of golf clubs at Dicks Sporting Goods and received 2 free tickets to the Pro-Am round of the Mario Lemieux Foundation celebrity golf invitational. Naturally we took the Wednesday day off work and ran to the Nemicolon Resort.

We passed up the chance to watch numerous celebs such as Charles Barkley, Jordan, Bill Murray etc etc, and followed Mario around all day. There were no autographs allowed on the course so we didn't think we'd come close to anyone.

On a side note, I'll just tell you now that Mario, in-person, is HUGE. the TV does little justice to his dominating size. He towered over his caddy and the fat, aging CEO's he was paired with. And maybe only Jordan had a nicer golf swing...but i doubt it, lol

About 7 holes into the long, hot day, Mario drove a beautiful shot right down the middle of the fairway. My buddy and i walked parallel with him along the cart path and stopped where his ball landed. He waited at his ball for about a minute for the group ahead to finish up, when he finally turned to his caddy, said something and started walking in our general direction...

Whoa! Look man!

He's heading right for us...


We were the only 2 people within 100 yards...


He stepped over the yellow rope and crossed the path no more than 5-8 feet from us. Both of us were absolutely dumbfounded and awestruck. We knew the No-Autographs rule but desperately wanted to say something to him. Needless to say all we managed to get out was "Hey Mario," in the weakest voices ever heard from 17yo's...

He didn't stop but turned his head and said back "How ya doin' guys?" and proceeded to walk directly towards....

....the out-house.

Yes- that's right. We saw our boyhood hero, our adolescent man-crush, the man who brought us 2 Stanley Cups use a fairway porta-john.

We chuckled in delight as he was in there and waited patiently for him to come out. When he emerged, he didn't walk as close to us as before but gave a polite head-nod and raised his hand as he croseed back over the cart path and yellow rope.

I don't remember much after that, other than laughing about it all day long and leaving before he finished his round. It was easly 100 degrees out there and the lines for autographs were outrageous. We thought about staying but decided that watching Le Magnifique use a porta-potty was much more valuable than a scribbled signature on a magazine cover.

That's it. I hope you enjoyed it as much as i liked telling it. PEACE!

Breeze said...

That's a great story, Sean. I can tell it really made an impression on you. Here's the story of my Mario encounter.

In 1995, I was working for a video production company in Pittsburgh. One of our clients, a department store, was holding a event where Pens players would take underprivileged kids shopping for winter clothing. We sent a team to shoot video of the event, and I got to go along.

There were a number of players there that day, but the ones that stand out in my memory were Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, and Petr Nedved.

We met with the players beforehand in the storeroom. We chatted for a bit, and they couldn't have been nicer to us. Lemieux and Francis in particular were very gentlemanly, shaking hands with each crew member and making sure they knew everyone's name.

During the event, the players were great with the kids--and with the store patrons (most of them female senior citizens, at that time of day). They shook hands and greeted people, but refused to pose for photos or sign autographs; in Mario's words to one grandmotherly type, "We're here for the kids, not for us." She seemed rather impressed.

When the event was over, the guys shook hands all around again, thanked us, then took off for practice at Southpointe.

That evening I spoke with my dad (another big Pens fan), and he asked what I'd done at work that day.

"Nothing much," I deadpanned. "Met Lemieux, Jagr, Francis, and Nedved."

I briefly sketched the encounter for him.

"Wow. Did you get any pictures or autographs?"

"No, Dad," I said. "I was working, and so were they."

"Good answer, kiddo," he said. "That's the right way to look at it."

Hooks Orpik said...

Cool stories Sean and everyone.

My aunt has a cool Mario story, this is probably about three or four years ago. She was with her friend in an elevator in a Pittsburgh building on route to a meeting. The elevator doors open and in steps Lemieux. He smiles politely and nods as he steps in turns and hits his floor. They are at the back of the elevator and at this point his back is turned to them.

Unable not to say something, my aunt says "Holy s*** it's Mario Lemieux!" but then was embarassed and Mario didn't really acknowledge anything.

A few awkward seconds later the elevator beeps, it's on Mario's floor. As he gets ready to step off the elevator he pinches himself and says "Holy shit, I am!" and walks off.

Crazy little moments that I'm sure happen all the time for him.

Hooks Orpik said...

Whoops, sorry I didn't star out that the second profanity. My b!