Tuesday, October 5, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Two Hockey Greats - Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy!!

[GREAT WORK THANKS to new contributing writer, Maureen L.]

October 5, 1965. Random date? Not quite. While hockey fans across the world were going about their business, the Canadian province of Quebec welcomed two boys to the world. They were born 160 miles from each other (one in Montreal and one in Quebec City), and no one outside of immediate family was probably even aware of these births. However, hockey would be changed immensely by the careers of these 2 men; we just didn’t know it yet. The names of those two boys, born on the same day a relatively short distance from each other… Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy.

Mario Lemieux. If you’re even a casual sports fan, you’ve heard of him. If you’re a hockey fan, you know who he is and a little about him. If you’re a Penguin fan, his name is held in the highest esteem, at a level near that of royalty or deity. Regardless of individual opinion, Lemieux has been hugely influential to the sport both on and off the ice, and no where more than Pittsburgh.

Patrick Roy (rWAH) is another individual who did a great deal for hockey both on and off the ice. Roy, a gifted and prolific goalie who split his career between the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche played a large part in the evolution of “modern goaltending”. Although his move from Montreal to Colorado was controversial at the time, Roy and the Montreal team and fans have “made peace”. On October 28, 2003, Roy’s #33 jersey was retired by the Avalanche. 5 years later, Montreal followed, retiring his #33 sweater on November 22, 2008.

Shaping the Stars:

Mario Lemieux started playing hockey early in life, at about the age of 3. He and his 2 older brothers used wooden kitchen spoons and bottle caps on the floor of the basement before they had real equipment. In what seems to be a “Canadian tradition”, Lemieux’s father built a rink on the front lawn to allow the boys as much practice time as possible. Lemieux came up through the ranks of the QMJHL and entered the 1984 NHL draft. He was the top pick, chosen by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Due to some dispute over contract negotiations, Lemieux did not shake hands or don the Penguin jersey which led to a cool first reception in Pittsburgh. Despite the troubles that plagued the Pittsburgh Penguins, (financial and a poor record leading to low attendance), Lemieux set out to give it his all in his rookie season. On October 11, 1984 in his first shift ever in his first NHL game, Lemieux stole the buck from Boston d-man Ray Borque and scored on his very first NHL shot. That was a just a preview of the magical presence Mario had on the ice.

Like Lemieux, Patrick Roy started playing hockey early in life and first became interested in goaltending at the age of 7. Roy never ended up on the really good childhood hockey teams, the teams he was on were usually at or near the bottom of the rankings. This combined with his new style of goaltending lead to a mixed bag of opinions about where he belonged in the draft rankings. He was drafted 54th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1984 draft. He helped the Canadiens AHL squad to a Calder Cup championship with 10 wins in 13 games.

In the 1985-1986 season, Roy made his full time debut with the Canadiens. He played 47 games and earned the playoff roster spot. He exploded in the playoffs, leading the Canadiens to a surprise Stanley Cup title and taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy for the playoff MVP. He was only 20 years old.

Shaping the Game:

Lemieux is considered by many to be the most physically talented player to play in the NHL. Watching him play, it’s hard to disagree. Unfortunately Lemieux’s career was plagued by illness and injury leaving many to wonder what might have been if he was healthy throughout his career. Lemieux’s skating ability, speed, gifted hands and flawless instinct all contributed to his success on the ice. Not only was Lemieux physically gifted, he had a way with fans. The Pittsburgh Penguins attendance began to slowly improve during Lemieux’s rookie season. There was a marked difference by his sophomore season.

Lemieux had a profound impact on hockey’s popularity, both in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, as well as other parts of the United States. Hockey was only moderately popular in a lot of areas of the United States. Because of its Canadian roots and the dominance of Canadian players and teams, many American’s were slow to notice the growth of this new (to them) sport. This French Canadian player was an ambassador for many with his dynamic style and his highlight reel plays. The fact that Mario Lemieux played his entire career in Pittsburgh, chose to stay here, and has personally given his all to Pittsburgh hockey; his role in hockey programs cannot be diminished.

Even after his retirement, Lemieux has been very influential in hockey. As the majority owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the same team he played for, he saved the team from bankruptcy. He also negotiated a deal that took the Penguins from the outdated Civic/Mellon Arena and into their inaugural season at the Consol Energy Center. He has been influential in the growth of youth hockey in the Western Pennsylvania area. His Mario Lemieux Foundation (link here) is very involved in cancer research and is inspired by his own battle with cancer. It’s hard to say what made Mario so super, was it his time on the ice, or his time off of it? Regardless of what came first, his appeal, influence, and ambassadorship of hockey can’t be ignored.

While Lemieux was busy transforming a city and to some degree, a country of hockey fans, Patrick Roy was busy transforming a particular position. Patrick Roy’s career shaped the art of goaltending in a number of ways. The changes in style, form, technique and equipment that are credited to Roy can be seen in every skill level. In addition to being a phenomenal talent, he wasn’t afraid to break with tradition. Although Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito are credited with the first innovations of the style, Roy was instrumental in modernizing both the style and the equipment into the “profly” style that is most widely used and taught today.

Roy worked with the François Allaire to develop the widely used “profly style”. If you watch Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller to name just a few, you’ll see aspects of the profly style. The profly style places emphasis on mobility to move from side to side of the crease without standing up. While going to the knees cuts off the five hole, it also makes the goalie more vulnerable to over the shoulder shots. For most goaltenders, the pros of this approach outweigh the cons as they can protect the posts but also more effectively track passes across the goal mouth.

In addition to his work on developing the style, Roy played a huge role in updating the equipment. Roy worked with equipment designers Michel Lefebvre (of Koho and RBK fame) and the late Brian Heaton to develop gear that more was more effective for his style of play. This included strategic padding above the knees to protect the knees when he dropped and more flexibility and less weight to the pads, allowing him freedom to move.

Roy’s huge success in his career helped to popularize and solidify the style of goaltending he was known for. His career helped to pave the way for players like Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, and Marc-Andre Fleury among others.

After his retirement, Roy returned to Quebec and became involved with coaching his sons in hockey. He has expressed a desire to coach at the NHL level someday and it was rumored he turned down a coaching job with the Colorado Avalanche.

By the numbers: (Courtesy of NHL.com)

Mario Lemieux: NHL Records
  • 5 goals in different ways in one game (shorthanded, full strength, power play, penalty shot, and empty net) (December 31, 1988 against the New Jersey Devils; only player to accomplish the feat)
  • Shorthanded goals, season (13 in 1988–89)
  • Goals, period (4, 26 January 1997, shares record)
  • Only player to score over 30 power-play goals in two different seasons
  • Only one of two players to score over 10 short-handed goals in two different seasons. The other, Wayne Gretzky.
  • Most goals scored or assisted on, season (57.3% of team's goals, 1988–89)
  • Only player with 3 eight point games
  • Four career five goal games (shares record)
  • Best goals per game in the regular season and playoffs at .750
  • Only player to record 1,000 career assists without reaching 1,000 NHL games played (all other players to accomplish 1,000 career assists have played at least 1,337 NHL games)
Lemieux also has numerous awards and accolades to his credit. Here are just a few:
  • Stanley Cup champion – 1991, 1992, 2009 (as owner)
  • Olympic gold medalist — 2002
  • Hart Memorial Trophy – 1988, 1993, 1996
  • Art Ross Trophy – 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997
  • Conn Smythe Trophy – 1991, 1992
  • Lester B. Pearson Award – 1986, 1988, 1993, 1996

Patrick Roy: NHL Records
  • Most NHL playoff games played by a goaltender (247).
  • Most combined wins (regular season and playoffs) by an NHL goaltender (702).
  • Most NHL playoff wins by a goaltender (151).
  • Most Conn Smythe Trophy wins (3).
  • Most NHL playoff shutouts (23) – tied with Martin Brodeur.
  • One of only two goalies (Brodeur) to play in at least 1,000 NHL games.
Roy’s accolades and awards include:
  • Calder Cup – with Sherbrooke Canadiens in 1985
  • Stanley Cup — with Montreal Canadiens in 1986, 1993, with Colorado Avalanche in 1996, 2001
  • Conn Smythe Trophy — 1986, 1993, 2001
  • William M. Jennings Trophy — 1987*, 1988*, 1989*, 1992, 2002
  • Vezina Trophy — 1989, 1990, 1992
  • NHL All-Star Game — 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003
  • NHL 1st All-Star Team — 1989, 1990, 1992, 2002
  • NHL 2nd All-Star Team — 1988, 1991
  • NHL All-Rookie Team — 1986
  • Trico Goaltending Award — 1989, 1990
  • Memorial Cup in 2006 with Quebec Remparts (as the Coach)
  • The Colorado Avalanche retired Roy's No. 33 jersey on October 23, 2003.
  • The Montreal Canadiens retired Roy's No. 33 jersey on November 22, 2008

Lemieux was inducted into the NHL hall of fame on November 17, 1997. Roy was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame on November 13, 2006.

I want to wish a very Happy Birthday to Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Roy. Thank you for all of your contributions to hockey!

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