After 3 years away, Lemieux embraces All-Star Game

ON THE NHL

January 19, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Every time an all-star game rolls around, the first thing everyone wants to talk about is how meaningless it is.

But as NHL players gather for tomorrow's 46th NHL All-Star Game, the situation looks a little different for at least one man.

Mario Lemieux, the Pittsburgh Penguins star who is recovering from Hodgkin's disease and is back leading the NHL in scoring, is here for the first time since 1992.

"Sometimes, when you're in the All-Star Game every year, you take it a little bit for granted," said Lemieux, voted to the team for the seventh time. "But after missing it for a few years, you realize you miss it a lot. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends, renewing friendships in a relaxed atmosphere and playing the game."

Last year, there was no All-Star Game in the lockout-shortened season. The two years before that, Lemieux missed the game with back surgery and Hodgkin's.

"I'm a little surprised by how this season has gone so far," said Lemieux. "I certainly had doubts early last summer, when I

decided to come back. I had some concerns about the whole season. But I worked hard the couple months before training camp to get my back in pretty good shape, and was able to have a pretty good start. And that gave me a lot of confidence to continue."

Lemieux has 40 goals and 60 assists in 38 games to lead the NHL with 100 points. He said this week he still has room for improvement.

"I'm not to the level I was three years ago, before my battle with cancer," he said. "That's what I've been trying to achieve this year, to get back to the level I was before my back injury and my Hodgkin's battle. I still feel I'm not quite there yet. My speed is not there. I'm not able to beat a guy one-on-one like I used to."

He says it is taking longer than he expected. But even at that, Lemieux has been better than anyone else.

Wishes come true

When the Make-A-Wish Foundation called to tell David Beard, 16, that his wish to attend the NHL All-Star Game with his brother Patrick, 14, and their parents, David and Vickie, would come true, the Bowie High School student was jubilant.

"He kept saying, 'Oh, we're going, we're going,' " said Vickie Beard. "He still can't believe it."

L David and Patrick suffer from Duchenne's muscular dystrophy.

Thanks to Make-A-Wish, they are to experience their first airplane ride this morning and arrive here in time to visit the family-oriented NHL Experience, a display that allows fans to experience the virtual reality of the game, before attending tonight's Legends Game and Skills Competition. Tomorrow, they'll attend the celebrity game and the All-Star Game.

"I've always wanted to see all the star players together," said David. "And I'm really looking forward to seeing [New Jersey goalie] Martin Brodeur, and I'm hoping to get Wayne Gretzky to autograph his autobiography."

Gretzky wants Cup

When the Los Angeles Kings played in Washington in November, Gretzky talked about how much he wants to win another Stanley Cup. One likes to think that desire is behind his public demands to the Kings' new owners to get a 50-goal scorer and an offensive-minded defenseman -- the two ingredients he believes necessary for the Kings to win the Stanley Cup -- or kiss him goodbye.

"It's been so long since I've won one," he said. "I don't really remember what it feels like, and I'd like to win one more for me. It would be the icing on the cake."

Meetings this week between Gretzky, his agent, Michael Barnett, and Kings management resolved little.

But Gretzky said: "Management has told me they would like to win, and that's the biggest thing I wanted resolved." Meetings are to resume after the All-Star break.

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