Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 05/30/09 at 10:32 PM ET
Q. It seems like you’re enjoying this, having some fun. When you bought the team out of bankruptcy, did you ever imagine it getting to this level consistently?
MARIO LEMIEUX: Well, I knew it was going to take a few years, certainly, to build a great club in Pittsburgh. We went through a very difficult four or five years, as you well know in Pittsburgh, finishing last or close to last. Getting the draft picks that we needed to rebuild.
Of course, the lottery didn’t hurt either, getting Sidney in Pittsburgh with Malkin and Fleury and Staal, and the rest of the gang that we have.
So I knew it was going to take a while to get back on top, but now that we are, I think we’re well positioned for the next few years, at least with the core players that we have signed in the last couple of years.
Q. What is your relationship like with Sidney and specifically in the playoffs? Do you talk to him? Do you talk hockey? What’s that like? And the second part, when you see what he’s accomplished this spring, does it put you in mind of when you were younger or Jagr was there?
MARIO LEMIEUX: Yeah, absolutely. He’s been playing unbelievable throughout the playoffs, and I think he’s on a mission to hopefully achieve his goal to win the Stanley Cup and win the championship in Pittsburgh. You know, he’s been dreaming about this time since he was a little boy. For sure we talk about hockey all the time before dinner or after dinner at home. Different things that I see from the top. Just we talk a lot about the game. When he’s not sleeping or practicing.
But he’s great to be around. He’s the same kid that he was when he came with us four years ago, and he’s a joy to be around. My kids love him, and he’s part of our family, really. He’s been with us for so long, and it’s great to have him around.
Q. Compare the prospect of winning the Stanley Cup as an owner to what you felt when you won it twice as a player almost 20 years ago?
MARIO LEMIEUX: Well, that was certainly a goal of mine when I bought the team to hopefully one day, you know, win the Stanley Cup as an owner. And we had an opportunity last year that didn’t go as planned, but hopefully this year the outcome’s going to be different.
We see our team as having a great chance this year. We have a different mindset, different style of play that we play, and hopefully this year is our year. Yeah, it would be a dream come true for me. Buying the team in ‘99 and rebuilding it with the people that we have in the organization. It should be a special moment if it ever happens.
Q. Can you compare yourself at 21 and four years in the NHL to Crosby at 21 and four years in the NHL as a player and a person?
MARIO LEMIEUX: No, I think he’s a lot more mature than I was at 21. He was a lot more mature at 18. I think you guys all know that from his interviews and from talking to him every day. He’s a special kid. He’s a better player than I was at the same age, for sure. Some of the things that 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.
Q. Looking at this series specifically, can you talk about what based on last year, can you talk about what it’s like for you to feel ?? what you feel like watching these games and also a little bit of any kind of match-up or prediction you want to give us?
MARIO LEMIEUX: No prediction, obviously (smiling). You know, it’s been so much fun this year to see the team, especially the last month of the season, turn it around from what we were. Then in the playoffs to play the way we did in the first three series and to see the team getting better game after game. Seeing the focus and all of the guys to hopefully get to the finals this year and achieve our goal to win the Stanley Cup.
It’s been for me personally and the ownership and my family, it’s been a lot of fun to follow these guys every game and to watch them win series after series, and hopefully, achieve our goal.
Q. What’s it been like watching your children watch this? They’re old enough to actually appreciate it. Most of them weren’t even born when you were winning?
MARIO LEMIEUX: Well, they’ve seen DVD’s and tapes (smiling). But to be here with us, you know, the whole family, we’re very supportive of Sidney, of course, because he lives with us. But they love the game. I have a daughter that is going to Shattuck next year for that special reason to play hockey, hopefully, in the future. And Austin plays. I’ve got my little daughter Alexa that plays. So I’ve got three out of four.
But it’s been fun for them, too. To be around and to come on the road with us when they can and to be a part of it. It’s something that as a young kid you always remember for the rest of your life. It’s important for me to have them with us as much as we can.
Q. When you played you were a pretty outspoken critic at times of the way the game was played when the clutching and grabbing was at its worst. What is your view now as an owner four years into the new rules after the lockout?
MARIO LEMIEUX: I think it’s great. I think it’s great to see the game the way it turned out to be now. Not much clutching and grabbing, of course. The speed of the game, the size of the player, it’s a totally different game than what I played.
I was looking at tapes the other day from ‘91 and ‘92, and there was a lot of clutching and grabbing there from both sides. But I think it’s a lot more enjoyable for the hockey fans to watch these games now than what we used to watch years ago. And I enjoy it a lot more.
Q. A question about outspoken critic. That’s what Chris Chelios has been. But you played against him for many years. What did you think he meant to the game and the fact that he’s still playing. And part two, the Commissioner spent a lot of the day talking about Jim Balsillie and his place potentially in the league. As an owner, I don’t know if you’ve met him or know much about him?
MARIO LEMIEUX: I’ve met him a few times (laughing). Didn’t work out, but I met him. I’ve played golf with him, and obviously he was trying to buy the Penguins before we got the arena deal done. So that’s all I can say about the Phoenix situation and Jim Balsillie. You know, it’s up to the league and it’s in the courts now, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment at this point. But I’m sure we’ll find out soon what comes out of the Phoenix situation and Jim Balsillie.
As far as Chris, he’s meant a lot to the game. I think his passion for the game shows it at 47. He’s still out there, you know, trying to win a Stanley Cup. What a great athlete to be able to do that at 47 years old. You know, he’s been in great shape for years. I had the opportunity to train with him a couple of years ago in L.A. for a few weeks, and he’s the hardest working guy out there, even though he was 45 years old. He was pretty tough to keep up with.
So he’s meant a lot to the game. You know, he’s a great athlete, obviously, a great professional, and good for the game.
Q. Some of the comparisons we’ve heard surrounding the series is on Edmonton culling back and beating the Islanders after losing to them going back-to-back. And then comparing Sid and Malkin to you and Jagr. Do you see any validity to either one of those, and why?
MARIO LEMIEUX: It would be nice to follow what Edmonton did, for sure. Similar type of team with the core guys that we have, you know, Gretz and Messier, and of course we have Malkin and Sid. Pretty much similar to the two teams the way they played. What was the other question?
Q. You and Jagr compared to Sid and Geno?
MARIO LEMIEUX: Yeah, I mean, it’s always tough to compare players. You know, some players do things better than others. But, for sure, the duo, to be able to go out there and play together on the line, which we’ve done occasionally with Sidney and Malkin at times, certainly it’s an advantage.
Q. So much is made of how much experience your team has gotten from last year until now, and how it’s going to help them going through the second time in the finals. As an owner, suffering as a player, how is your experience during this playoff run different from last year?
MARIO LEMIEUX: Well, as you said, 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. I don’t think our kids were quite prepared to play in the finals.
But I think this year seems and feels different. The focus is there from our players and certainly 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 mindset than we had last year.
Q. We all know what you battled as a player is obviously a number of injuries that you persevered through. How do you feel all these years later now that you’ve been away from the game for a few years?
MARIO LEMIEUX: I feel good, actually. I started working out again about two months ago which is always tough after a few years. But my back’s always going to be an issue for me, and I had two hip surgeries. So my golf is not as good as it used to be. I can’t turn as much as I used to be.
But it’s fine. I get up every day, take a couple of Advils, and I’m ready to go (smiling). Thank you.
*transcript courtesy of the NHL
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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