Like a soaring pterodactyl, Mario Lemieux swooped into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick (or was it attached to his stick?), backed off two frozen Capitals' old-timers, slowed his glide to a near standstill, and then did what Mario Lemieux did so frequently during his playing days - made a drop pass that floated seemingly into empty space, only to arrive perfectly on the stick of one of his linemates. And then the recipient of this drop pass, who too often on this day was, inexplicably, #23 Gary Rissling, did what recipients of Mario's drop passes often did in the 1990's - made another drop pass. And then the recipient of this second drop pass, perhaps a 300lb Kevin Stevens or a trying-a-little-too-hard Phil Bourque did what the second drop pass recipient often did - made another drop pass.
When the Pens' alumni weren't making drop passes on this gray yet sunny morning, they were playing the Capitals' alumni to an unsatisfying 5-5 tie, and the decision to end in a tie pleased no one, save for Kevin Stevens who was one hop over the boards away from a heart-attack.
|Leaning on his stick.|
I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for this memorable (albeit nearly silent) event to witness what might have been Mario Lemieux's final public appearance in any hockey-related competition. Although he may have taken one stride the entire game and glided the rest of the morning, he still was a towering presence, both literally and figuratively. He had a separate introduction to a tape of John Barbaro's voice, a heart-warming and nostalgic touch. He was followed on an isolation camera for much of warm-ups and then was, for reasons unknown but understood, given a second special individual introduction. On his first shift, the jumbo-tron camera followed only Mario. On his second shift, it pretty much did the same thing. Around Mario's third shift, Dan Potash did what Dan Potash is paid to do - lob softballs to Mario. Mario, with his trademark half-grin, knocked the softballs out of the park. On his fourth shift, or maybe even earlier, Mario banked a pass in off his personal backboard, Rob Brown.
|Mario looks like their camp counselor.|
|Definitely more exciting than shootout.|
After the jump, more thoughts and more pictures...
- If you're curious about the crowd noise, think of the sound that you try to make the first time you stay at your girlfriend's parents' house and they make you stay in separate bedrooms and you wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night but you creep around because you don't want them to think you are sneaking to her room.
- Craig Laughlin, a former Capitals' forward and now their TV color commentator could not skate. And when I say he couldn't skate, I mean, literally, he couldn't skate. I'm hesitant to say that I'm better than any of these guys, even the much much older ones, because, after all, they played in the NHL and I played at Neville Ice Arena, but I will say that Laughlin was the worst player on the ice. Somehow, he scored 136 goals in the NHL.
- Artistry, via text messages spouting with a child-like enthusiasm that nearly burst through my iPhone, observed that Robbie Brown's skating is unchanged and, in the understatement of the year, declared that "Stevens has kind of let himself go." I was expecting a follow up text that John Belushi kind of had a drug problem.
- P.Co, a dedicated reader, astutely contrasted Dan Bylsma with Bruce Boudreau in a comment to yesterday's post. To follow up, the contrast was stark again this morning. Early in the second (and final) period, Boudreau waddled out of the runway right in front of where I was sitting wearing a gray suit that had no choice but to be too tight. He was predictably booed and responded with waves to the crowd to increase the volume, and made the "shh!" sign and pointed to the scoreboard (the Caps were up 4-3 at the time). He then proceeded to the area between the two benches, turned his back to the ice, and did interviews (or smeared barbeque sauce on his face). He was making the moment about himself. In contrast, Dan Bylsma, in a jogging suit, jogged out of the same tunnel at a similar time, politely acknowledged the cheers from the crowd, introduced himself to 5 Pittsburgh policemen and then took pictures with them while watching the game.
- The game itself may have redefined what it is to skate slowly, but it was a joy to watch. Everyone seemed to genuinely get along, no one was injured, and Phil Bourque got to skate again with Mario. It sets the stage for tomorrow's showdown which, regardless of the weather, will be spectacular.