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Sunday, July 14, 2013

1993-94 Leaf Mario Lemieux Collection

After seeing a post a couple of months ago on the Shoebox Legends blog about the 1993-94 Leaf Mario Lemieux Collection insert set, I decided I had to have them for myself. I have no idea what the insertion rate of these cards in the Leaf set were, but I do know that they split them up, with cards 1-5 in Series 1 and 6-10 in Series 2. Either way, the best way to do it is to save yourself the frustration and hard work, and just to purchase the set off of Ebay.

The set pays tribute to Lemieux, who was the poster-boy for the Leaf set that year. The cards all spotlight Lemieux at different points in his career up to that point, but there was still much more for him to accomplish. Anyway, here's a look at the cards that pay tribute to the first half of Lemieux's legendary career.


1. Header Card
This card basically summarizes the tribute set, pointing out that, at least at that point, Lemieux had already won four scoring titles, played in six All-Star Games, and led the Penguins to two Stanley Cups.


2. Quebec Major Junior Player of the Year
3. First Overall Pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft
4. 1984-85 Calder Trophy Winner


5. 1987-88 Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy Winner
6. Two-Time Conn Smythe Trophy Winner
7. Six-Time NHL All-Star


8. Penguins Capture First Stanley Cup
9. 1992-93: Mario Lemieux's Best Season Ever!
10. Mario's Magnificent Career

Also, as the header card pointed out, Lemieux would be turning 28 at the beginning of the 1993-94 season. TWENTY-EIGHT!!! There's nothing like seeing what pro athletes are able to accomplish so early on to make me think I haven't done much at all with my life at 32.

Anyway, still on the horizon for Lemieux was a battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which he announced in Jan. 2003. He had years to go in his battle with the disease but on the same day that he had his last radiation treatment of the initial round in early 1993, he traveled to Philadelphia for a game against the Flyers, and scored a goal and an assist, and helped the Penguins win an NHL-record 17 consecutive games, on their way to a franchise-record 119 points. Oh, and that same season, he scored an average of 2.67 points per game, on the way to his fourth scoring title, the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, NHL Plus/Minus Award, Bill Masterton Trophy, First Team NHL All-Star, and ESPY NHL Player of the Year Award. This was all despite missing almost two months in the middle of the season for his radiation treatment.

Damn.

Since then, Lemieux won an Olympic Gold Medal (2002), Hart Trophy (1996), Lester B. Pearson Award (1996), Lester Patrick Trophy (2000), and ESPN Hockey Player of the Decade (2000). He also won his third Stanley Cup, this time as a part-owner of the Penguins, in 2009. He retired in 1997, and was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame that year, becoming the ninth player to have his three-year waiting period waived. He returned to the NHL late in 2000, and despite missing three seasons of hockey  finished the 2000-01 campaign with 35 goals and 41 assists in just 43 games!


Lemieux also holds what I think is the most INSANE sports accomplishment of any sport. On December 31, 1988 in a game against the New Jersey Devils, Lemieux managed to score five goals, five different ways, going even-strength, power play, short-handed, penalty shot, and empty net.

To break it down, Lemieux scoring goals is not that uncommon. He had a total of 690 in his NHL career, including 236 on the power play, and 49 short-handed. He scored a total of 40 hat tricks during his career, but those goals could have been scored in any manner, so if he were to do so by scoring one goal each of those three ways, that would have been pretty cool. But with multiple penalties being called on both sides during a given game, there are opportunities every game to score goals in that way, and as prolific of a scorer as Lemieux was, he would certainly be on both the penalty kill and power play squads.

The other two ways, though, are not quite as common. A penalty shot occurs when a player on a team has a clear breakaway opportunity at the net, but interference from an opposing player prevents the opportunity. I'm not sure how often this happens during the regular season, but to give some perspective, during the Stanley Cup Finals, only 46 penalty shots have occurred, with just 10 becoming goals. So not only do they rarely occur, but only 20 percent of the time, does it actually result in a goal.

So now we're at four goals, but the funny thing with this circumstance, is that goal #5, the empty-netter, actually depends on the performance of the opposition. For one thing, Lemieux has already scored four goals, so at the very least, New Jersey would have needed three to put them at a close enough reach to pull their goaltender. The problem is, in addition to scoring four goals, up to this point, he also recorded three assists on teammates' goals, giving the Penguins seven. As fortune would have it, New Jersey had six goals. High scoring games in hockey aren't uncommon, but they don't occur every day. Plus, it's a little rare, that when one team scores that many goals in a game for them to be on the losing end. But there they were, the Penguins are up 7-6 in the final minutes of the game, when the Devils pull their goaltender for an extra attacker, and Lemieux finds the back of the net at 19:59, with just one second left to go. Now, had the Devils not found a way to score six goals in a losing effort this accomplishment never could have happened.

I've always believed that great opportunities come to players all the time, but what separates the greats from the legends is that when presented with those opportunities, the legends just simply find a way to make it happen.

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