Lemieux discusses life, ownership and Crosby

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DETROIT -- Mario Lemieux ran down the list.

"My back's always going to be an issue for me, and I had two hip surgeries," the Penguins' co-owner and Hall of Fame center said last night. "So my golf is not as good as it used to be. I can't turn as much as I used to."

They weren't complaints. Just the facts of life for a 43-year old who played hockey at its highest level. He won two Stanley Cup championships and is getting a chance to live through long playoff runs from different perspective.

Lemieux, who rarely grants interviews, flashed a lot of smiles during a news conference last night before the Penguins and Detroit met in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.

It was 10 years ago that Lemieux helped to bring the Penguins out of bankruptcy and turn them into a winner again -- part of that time as a player after he came out of retirement, but mostly as an owner.

"I knew it was going to take a few years, certainly, to build a great club in Pittsburgh," Lemieux said. "We went through a very difficult four or five years, as you well know, in Pittsburgh, finishing last or close to last, then getting the draft picks that we needed to rebuild."

The Penguins obtained several stars on the team that is back in the final for the second year in a row, including centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Lemieux is particularly close to Crosby, who was selected first overall in the 2005 draft. Lemieux gushed that Crosby is "part of our family" and "a joy to be around."

"I think he's a lot more mature than I was at 21," Lemieux said. "He was a lot more mature at 18. 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."

Lemieux wouldn't predict a winner in this series, but he seems to believe the club is capable of changing the outcome of last year, when the Red Wings captured the title in six games.

"We had an opportunity last year that didn't go as planned, but, hopefully, this year the outcome is going to be different," Lemieux said. "We see our team as having a great chance this year. We have a different mind-set, different style of play and, hopefully, this year is our year.

"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."

Lemieux, who has his family of six here, once called the NHL "a garage league" because of the rampant interference that slowed the game and its skill players. But not anymore.

"I think it's great to see the game the way it turned out to be now," he said. "Not much clutching and grabbing. ... I was looking at tapes the other day from '91 and '92 [when the Penguins won the Cup], and there was a lot of 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 year ago. And I enjoy it a lot more."

Even if it did take a physical toll.

"I get up every day, take a couple Advils and I'm ready to go," Lemieux said.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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