Sunday, 20 September 2009

TBC: Mario

You may have wondered where Teebz's Book Club disappeared to over the summer months. Like school, I decided to give the literature a break while the summer months played out, and this worked out well because I was busy most nights as well. However, with school back in session, Teebz's Book Club makes its return, and we start September off with a book that interested me from the moment I picked it up. Mario, authored by Lawrence Martin and published by Lester Publishing, was produced in 1993 after Mario Lemieux had won two Stanley Cups and various accolades in his early career. In knowing this, it was a chance for me to examine the beginnings of my favorite NHL player through the eyes of Mr. Martin in this "unauthorized biography".

Rarely do players of such immense talent in their given sport come along. The story starts with Mario's humble upbringing in Montreal under his parents' watchful eyes. Jean-Guy Lemieux, Mario's father, was a house builder. Pierrette, Mario's mother, was a swimming instructor. Together, they produced three athletically-gifted sons: Alain, Richard, and Mario. It was Mario who dazzled on the ice with his love of the game, and his parents went to great lengths to help him pursue his passion.

Mr. Martin takes us to Ville Emard, Quebec where Mario shone as a youngster. His life-long friend, goaltender Carl Parker, was a teammate on the Ville Emard Hurricanes, and the talented Lemieux shone brightly in Parker's eyes. Parker was interviewed for the book and spoke glowingly of Lemieux.

The one thing that Mr. Martin does in the book is spell out how important privacy is to Mario Lemieux. He goes to great efforts to show that no matter what age Lemieux was, his privacy and family came before anything else. He was shy as a child, he was shy and reclusive as a teenager, and he walked his own path as an NHL superstar. This is made clear in the book many times, and it seemingly explains the pre-Stanley Cup Lemieux very well in terms of his reluctance in dealing with the media and fans.

Bob Perno, his first agent, encouraged him to go to Prague, Czechoslovakia to play in the IIHF World Championships in 1985 after the Penguins missed the playoffs. Lemieux was less than thrilled to be playing for Canada in a faraway country after a grueling NHL season. However, he reluctantly went to Prague to represent his country.

After playing the Germans and being crushed by the Soviets, Lemieux wanted out. Culture and history in a Communist country wasn't his thing, and the experience was exactly the opposite of what he thought his summer vacation should be. Perno was forced to explain the situation to Lemieux in terms of his commitment.

"You owe it to the team, you owe it to your country to stick it out. If you can't play because you are injured, then your job is to give support to those who can."
Mario, never one to take the beaten path, said he didn't care. He was tired, he was bored, he was hurt, and he wanted to return home. Perno and Eagleson forced him to stay, and this lit a fire under Lemieux. While watching Canada play the USA, Lemieux told Eagleson that he was staying. In the playoff round, Canada dispatched the Soviets by a 3-1 score with Lemieux factoring in by scoring two goals. The world was taking notice: if Lemieux was motivated, there was no one who could stop him. Canada, who had not beaten the Soviet Union at the World Championships since 1961, would play in the final against the Czechoslovakians. While they lost to the host team, Canada came back with an unexpected silver medal, and a young Lemieux who proved he can be the best.

There are also a number of Gretzky-Lemieux references made throughout the book as the two players went from being friends to rivals in everything they did. While there was still cordial and friendly chatter between them, hockey became the battleground for supremacy in the record books. While Lemieux was saddled with less talented players than Gretzky, there were impressive numbers being recorded by the Penguins centerman, and the comparison of the two players is on-going.

Perhaps the most telling section of the book is the part about Mario's back problems and the discovery of cancer. For all that the superstar endured in terms of his public image, his health concerns were a much bigger problem. There is some in-depth and poignant views from doctors about Lemieux's inner strength in the later chapters, and it really shows how he progressed from a reclusive, stubborn teenager to a bonafide superstar.

While Mr. Martin's account is chronological account of all that happened in Mario Lemieux's life, there could probably be dozens of accounts that paint Lemieux's life in a different picture. As a Lemieux fan myself, I appreciate these different viewpoints in order to keep everything in perspective about professional athletes. Lemieux was often misunderstood at the start of his career, and this book makes excellent efforts to not only show Lemieux's side of the story through his friends' accounts, but also through his own actions, words, and accomplishments.

Mario is an excellent look at the early career of Pittburgh's favorite hockey player and most celebrated athlete. Because Mr. Martin doesn't sugarcoat the story, Mario deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval for being honest and straight-forward. While there is some PG language in the book, it comes highly recommended for everyone.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

wcgillian said...

Good post! Well written. I thought I would throw this story at you and let me know what you think. It is about my friend Grant Jennings.