Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

At a Young 31, Mario Lemieux Packs Championship Capability

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

At a Young 31, Mario Lemieux Packs Championship Capability

Article excerpt

He skates across the blue line under pressure from the defense, holding onto the puck, holding, circling, holding, circling. It's as though time is frozen in a sport that has been called too fast to follow. But whenever Mario Lemieux has the puck, even a novice hockey fan knows something very special is about to happen.

There is no mistaking the long arms and gangly legs, that bent-over style of Lemieux's as he surveys the defense. Seemingly one step ahead of everyone else on the ice, he looks for the slightest opening and usually finds it. With a reach that most athletes would give their arms and legs for, Lemieux tantalizes the opposition. More patient than Brett Favre standing in the pocket waiting for a receiver to get open, Lemieux plays a cat-and-mouse game with his opponents, often carrying two of them on his back as he handles the puck.

"You can't give Mario even one chance," Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios says. "If you do, it's in the net. Other guys get opportunities, but when he does, he makes them count." Lemieux is the quintessential package - a sharpshooter and a precision passer who works magic with a puck. A big man with soft hands, he is blessed with incomparable vision and anticipation. A Michael Jordan on skates, if you will. All of which leaves one wondering why someone with skills so dominant can possibly be thinking about retiring. At age 31. "What I always wonder is what he would have done if he hadn't had his injuries," Devils defenseman Scott Stevens says. "No one I have ever seen in this game has possessed the enormous size and tremendous skill that Mario does." Lemieux, who would be closing in on the 1,000th regular-season game later this month if everything had broken right, instead has played in little more than 700 games because of injuries. Wayne Gretzky, who is generally considered the greatest player of his era, acknowledges the icon that Lemieux has become. …

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