DETROIT – Mario Lemieux can achieve another first in these NHL finals, the first former player – and Hall of Famer – to also win the Stanley Cup as an owner. His Pittsburgh Penguins’ chances may be determined by how well an extended member of the Lemieux family plays: captain Sidney Crosby.
Lemieux, talking before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit on Saturday, said Crosby, who has lived with the Lemieux family for four years, is more like a son than an employee.
“He’s been unbelievable throughout the playoffs,” Lemieux said of Crosby, who took a league-leading 14 playoff goals into the finals. “I think he’s on a mission to hopefully achieve his goal of winning a Stanley Cup, in Pittsburgh.
“He’s been dreaming about it since he was a little boy. Sure, we talk about hockey all the time, before and after dinner, and different things I see from the top. We talk a lot about the game, when he’s not sleeping or practicing.”
Lemieux’s four children treat the 21-year-old Crosby as if he were one of their own. Lemieux’s daughter, 16-year-old Stephanie, an aspiring hockey player, plans to follow Crosby’s path by attending the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota this year.
“He’s great to be around. He’s the same kid he was when he came to live with us four years ago – he’s a joy to be around,” said Lemieux, who, to support his players, is wearing the traditional playoff beard.
“My kids love him and he’s a part of our family, really, he’s been with us so long. It’s great to have him around.”
Turns out Sid the Kid is much like one of Mario’s own kids, he is so close to the Lemieux family.
Lemieux, the No. 1 pick in the 1984 draft, resuscitated what then was the NHL’s worst team as a player – just as Crosby did after being the Penguins’ top pick in 2005.
Lemieux didn’t win the first of his two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh until his seventh season, while Crosby has taken the Penguins to the finals during his third and fourth seasons.
“He’s a lot more mature at 21 than I was,” said Lemieux, who discussed his relationship with Crosby in greater detail than before. “He was a lot more mature at 18. He’s a special kid.
“He’s a better player than I was at the same age, for sure. Some of the things he does on the ice, his strength, skating ability, is incredible, his passion for the game and his will to be the best each and every shift, his work ethic.
“He’s got it all.”
Lemieux, who rarely gives interviews as an owner, is convinced these Penguins are better positioned to win the Stanley Cup than they were last season, when they lost to Detroit in six games.
“I think we have a little bit more experience now, having been there last year and seeing what it takes to be a champion, especially our first two games here last year, not scoring a goal,” Lemieux said.
“I don’t think our kids were quite prepared to play in the finals. This year seems and feels different, the way we’re approaching each and every game. We feel we have a chance to win every time we step on the ice. So it’s a totally different mind-set than we had last year.”
Lemieux, the No. 7 scorer in NHL history, first retired in 1997 following years of health problems that included cancer.
He stepped aside again in 2006 following a heart scare but, despite back problems that have bothered him since his mid-20s, has been relatively healthy since then.
“I started working out again about two months ago, which is always tough after a few years, and my back’s always going to be an issue for me, and I had two hip surgeries,” he said.
“So my golf is not as good as it used to be. But it’s fine. I get up every day, take a couple of Advils, and I’m ready to go.”