Pittsburgh’s history has no shortage of legendary professional athletes, but in the case of Mario Lemieux, “legendary” is an understatement. Born in Montreal, Lemieux was a first-round draft pick by the Penguins in 1984. The team that had just ranked last in the league amidst financial struggles, low fan turnout, and relocation rumors. Their new center quickly became one of the NHL’s top scorers, drew new fans to the Civic Arena, and eventually led the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and 1992. His success came in spite of numerous health issues, from back surgeries to a fight against Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Following his retirement in 1997, Lemieux was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, bypassing the usual 3-year waiting period. One year later, the Penguins declared bankruptcy. Unwilling to see the franchise leave town or liquidate, Lemieux stepped up in a first-of-its-kind deal to purchase his former team. He returned to the ice soon after, serving as both a player and an owner until his permanent retirement from the game at age 40.
In 2007, he negotiated a critical deal to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh for 30 years, along with the construction of what is now PPG Paints Arena. Lemieux’s work both on and off the rink didn’t just revive the Penguins – it transformed Pittsburgh into one of the nation’s best cities for hockey fans. Today, his legacy reaches throughout the Steel City, from his name on the state-of-the-art UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex to cancer research initiatives funded by the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Help us celebrate No. 66 – the man who saved Pittsburgh!