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Mario Lemieux

Retires And Becomes Part-owner Of Penguins

In April 1997 Lemieux surprised the sports world by announcing his retirement from professional hockey. He had long been disenchanted with the sloppy refereeing in the NHL, which allowed many cheap shots on the ice to go unnoticed by officials. "It's to the point where it's not hockey anymore. It's like football on skates," Sports Illustrated quoted him in 1997. "The best teams win in basketball because the players can run up the court without carrying two guys on their backs. Not so in hockey. That's why there are so many teams with mediocre records…. It's the worst I've seen since I've been in theleague." Lemieux was also crippled by constant back pain, which was not relieved despite two major operations. Thus, when the Penguins were knocked out of that year's playoffs on April 11, 1997, Lemieux retired from hockey. "I'll miss the guys," he told Sports Illustrated, "What I won't miss is the way the game's being played." Lemieux was inducted into the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.

Lemieux's criticism added a sour note to the end of one of the most storied careers in hockey. Even more worrisome to Penguins fans was the news in 1999 that the team was now facing bankruptcy. If the financial problems—including a $16 million loss for the 1998-99 season—could not be resolved, it seemed certain that the franchise would be sold and moved to Portland, Oregon. With his ties to the team still strong, Lemieux stepped forward with an offer to buy a thirty-five percent stake in the Penguins with $5 million in cash and $20 million in deferred past salary payments owed to him. When it was completed, the deal made Lemieux into a hero in the opinion of many Pittsburghers, as he had saved the team from moving away. With Lemieux as the principal owner of the team, ticket sales increased and the team showed a modest profit in following season.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsHockeyMario Lemieux Biography - Drafted By Pittsburgh Penguins, Two Consecutive Stanley Cup Wins, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Diagnosed With Hodgkin's Disease