Saturday May 30th, 2009

DETROIT -- Mario speaks!

After maintaining a profile at the 2008 Stanley Cup final that is as low as GM's current stock price, Mario Lemieux, the former superstar-turned-Greta Garbo of NHL owners, held a 12-minute press conference prior to the start of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday between his Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings.

Tanned, rested and ready -- and sporting a lightweight Palm Beach sport coat that was redolent of summer -- the tieless Lemieux was as amiable as he was back in 1999 when he bought the team and returned to the ice. Of course, he had an economic imperative to be publicly chatty then. Since retiring early in the 2005-06 season, the first in the NHL career of his current tenant, Sidney Crosby, Lemieux has generally kept his counsel.

But in front of perhaps 50 media members, he covered the waterfront, chatting about the 21-year-old Crosby -- "A better player than I was at that age" -- the post-lockout game -- "I think it's great," a swell compliment from the man who once trashed the "garage league" of clutching and grabbing -- and other assorted stuff.

The highlights:

On comparing himself to Crosby, who still lives at Chez Mario: "He's a lot more mature than I was at 21. 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."

On the similarities between the 1984 champion Oilers and the current Penguins: "It would be nice to follow what Edmonton did, for sure. Similar type of team with the core guys we have, you know. (Wayne Gretzky) and (Mark) Messier, and of course we have (Evgeni) Malkin and Sid. Pretty much similar to the two teams (with) the way they played." The most astonishing thing was not what he said but that Lemieux even deigned to say it.

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