Mark Madden’s Hot Take: Mario Lemieux’s fantasy camp the best of its genre

Mario Lemieux made a pass, then broke free to take an easy return feed.

But the puck never got there. The rec-league player who took Lemieux’s dish tried to instead beat a defend one-on-one.

That’s the beauty of the Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp: Everybody is equal. (The puck hog paid handsomely for the privilege.)

Lemieux’s fantasy camp wrapped up its 10th edition Friday night at PPG Paints Arena. It’s the best of its genre: Hands-on, up close, personal. The ex-NHLers who play and coach are extremely accessible, not least the founder of the feast.

Lemieux looks good: He’s trim, as elegant on-ice as any 56-year-old ever, and could still likely play the left half-wall on the Penguins’ power play.

Lemieux plays for each of the camp’s four teams during the event’s three days, and switches teams midway through the championship game. (That way he always wins. So does Eddie Johnston, who seems to coach the winning team every year.)

The camp is flush with great guys, stars and campers alike.

Tie Domi looks threatening as ever, but has everybody laughing.

Paul Coffey breaks out the puck and his dice game. (He also sang “Travelin’ Man” in homage to my resemblance to Bob Seger.)

Darius Kasparaitis lines up the odd camper for a little nudge. (It’s no-check, but Kasparaitis can’t help himself.)

Ryan Malone and I talked about how much we hate the Philadelphia Flyers. (When Malone was a free agent in 2008, he gave his agent simple instructions: “No Flyers.”)

Johnston and Craig Patrick discussed the famous deal they made in 1991 that sent Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings to Pittsburgh while returning John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker to Hartford. (Patrick was GM of the Penguins, Johnston was Hartford’s GM.) That swap helped the Penguins win Stanley Cups in 1991 and ’92 but, as Patrick said, “It was an even trade.” Johnston agreed. At the time, The Hockey News gave Hartford the edge.

The camp is a celebration of hockey. Great post-camp dinner, too. (Pierogies n’at.)

Nine campers have attended all 10 years, including my longtime buddy Dr. Tom Parent, who was on this year’s winning side. (He played at Notre Dame, so he’s kind of a ringer.)

Will there be an 11th Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp? Here’s hoping. It seems likely.

I get goosebumps watching Lemieux play even now. You see what is, but also remember what was.

The team coached by Johnston and Patrick beat one guided by Pierre Larouche and Rick Tocchet to win the championship. (Did Tocchet do between-periods analysis?) The winners featured Joe Mullen and Colby Armstrong, the runners-up Coffey and Jay Caufield. (Who had the telestrator?)

Mullen, 65, imposed his will in the final by scoring the first goal and then setting up a late winner in a 4-3 thriller. (No surprise. Mullen’s a hockey lifer. He still plays 3-4 times per week.)

The camp’s real winner was the Mario Lemieux Foundation for Cancer Research, which raised a half-million dollars. The camp has raised $4 million to date. The Foundation has gifted a total of $32 million.

Lemieux has done more for Pittsburgh than any sports figure in the city’s history. More than Bob Nutting, even. (BTW, that $32 million includes the $6,600 he took from me for scoring that faceoff goal in 2002. I’ve done my part.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.