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The NHL / Tracy Dodds : Lemieux Talks as Smoothly as He Skates

Mario Lemieux had finished his game-day skate at the Forum Tuesday but he wasn’t quite free to leave the ice. His duties were not over.

He skated over to the boards at the home bench, scanned the almost-empty stands and made eye contact with Gene Washington of Channel 7. Lemieux gave a little nod, and Washington took his cue, cameraman in tow.

With no flamboyance, but with no trace of irritation, either, Lemieux politely answered all the questions about that night’s matchup against Wayne Gretzky and about his chances of breaking Gretzky’s records.

Then he turned to the next camera crew and politely answered all of the same questions again.

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Then he got to the newspaper reporter, in turn, and answered all of the same questions again.

After all, what else would be the subject for Lemieux on the day that he plays against Gretzky? The Lemieux-Gretzky comparison is the subject on every other day of the year, isn’t it? He has gone over this ground hundreds upon hundreds of times, just as Gretzky has.

As Lemieux recited all the right answers in a soft, measured tone, another comparison emerged. Lemieux seems to have adopted the Gretzky touch in dealing with the ever-present attention and the accompanying demands on his time.

It comes with the territory.

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But some stars handle it better than others. Lemieux has taken on the style, even the demeanor, of the master. And why not? He has also taken tips from Gretzky on the more obvious hockey skills.

Asked if he was conscious of a responsibility to represent not just himself and the Pittsburgh Penguins, but also the National Hockey League and the sport of hockey, Lemieux said, “Oh, yes. I think it is very important for all of the best players in the league to take that responsibility.”

Gretzky currently is the sport’s No. 1 ambassador--the most recognized, the most interviewed, the most opinionated. But Gretzky, 28, is projected to retire from active duty five or six years before Lemieux, 23. At that time, Lemieux is most likely to inherit the status.

“I have thought about that,” said Lemieux, who has always been considered shy. “After Wayne retires, I probably will have more attention and, so, more responsibility. I hope that I can be as good at it as he is.”

Referee Andy van Hellemond made an interesting point in the debate on hockey fighting when he said in the Toronto Star:

“Suppose the NHL did ban fighting and attendance dropped in a lot of cities. They’d be in a bind then, wouldn’t they? They couldn’t bring back fighting because it’d seem as though they were ordering the players to get out there and start fighting again. That’d look really bad.”

Fighting is not the Kings’ forte, but it was obvious that they didn’t intend to back down from the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night when the line that Coach Robbie Ftorek sent out to start the game included Gretzky, two defensemen and forwards Marty McSorley and Jay Miller.

Now, Gretzky has been double-shifting and sometimes playing on a line with McSorley and Miller, besides playing with his regular linemates, Mike Allison and Mike Krushelnyski. But putting McSorley and Miller out there for “The Star Spangled Banner” had to send a message.

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A total of 214 penalty minutes were called in the game.

McSorley’s contribution: two minutes for roughing, five minutes for fighting, two minutes for cross-checking, two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a 10-minute game misconduct.

Miller’s contribution: two minutes for interference, and five minutes twice for fighting.

NHL Notes

Dino Ciccarelli, the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Minnesota North Stars, had asked to be traded since before the season started, and he didn’t change his tune when Minnesota dealt him to Washington Tuesday. Ciccarelli said: “I’m going to a contender. I’m excited about it.” . . . Boston is playing well. Since the All-Star break, the Bruins are 10-1-1. . . . Marcel Dionne played for the New York Rangers Sunday in his first NHL game since being recalled from Denver of the International Hockey League. . . . Among the four goalies who recorded shutouts Sunday night was Washington’s Don Beaupre. Beaupre blanked Vancouver and is 3-1 since he was brought up from Baltimore of the American Hockey League Feb. 19. Andy Moog of Boston stopped 41 shots in his 5-0 victory over the New York Rangers that night. Boston defenseman Ray Bourque said: “That was probably the best goaltending performance I’ve seen. They didn’t get close to getting one past him. We can thank him for that win.” . . . The Montreal Canadiens (46-16-7) are waging a see-saw battle with the Calgary Flames (45-15-8) in the race for the $200,000 that goes to the team with the best regular-season record. . . . Wing Jay Miller of the Kings, who wore No. 29 when he was with the Boston Bruins, got the number back when rookie goalie Mark Fitzpatrick, was traded to the New York Islanders.


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