In 1990, the Mario Lemieux vs. Wayne Gretzky debate was in full-swing. Gretzky, the “Great One”, took hockey to unimaginable heights, but he was followed by the giant French Canadian kid who could equal Gretzky’s jaw-dropping numbers. And, Lemieux, with a never-ending reach, strength and grace could perform individual feats the smaller Gretzky would not dare.
The 1990 All-Star Game was on Lemieux’s home turf: The Civic Arena. And, “Super Mario” was born.
There was little doubt to whom the overflowing capacity crowd’s heart belonged. The boos cascaded down upon Gretzky’s shoulders, adorned by his iconic #99. Hockey’s best chuckled as the boos became deafening cheers for Lemieux.
Pittsburgh felt Lemieux needlessly lived in Gretzky’s shadow and they made sure to direct every ounce of sunlight upon their adopted son.
It was Mario’s Day
The game itself was played on a Sunday afternoon, instead of the customary Tuesday night, which allowed the NBC to broadcast the game across the U.S.A. For many, it was their first chance to witness Gretzky vs. Lemieux.
Lemieux immediately seized the opportunity to dazzle the hometown crowd. Just 21 seconds into the game, Lemieux lit the lamp. He took a feed from Brian Propp and Cam Neely. Lemieux displayed his condor-like reach as he skated behind the net for a wraparound goal. The Campbell Conference goalie, Mike Vernon, never had a chance.
Nor did anyone else, that day.
Lemieux collected a hat trick, in the first period. His second goal was at the 13-minute mark and third goal of the period at the 17:37 mark. Lemeiux’s period was three goals…on three shots.
Lemieux was not done either. He added a fourth goal a minute into the third period.
Lemieux was named the MVP of the All-Star for the third time of his career and became just the second player to score four goals in an All-Star Game. Another notable performance was from Wayne Gretzky, who failed to reach the scoresheet and was on the ice for all four Lemieux tallies.
Lemieux was catching Gretzky’s greatness.
Not including the 1989-90 campaign. Lemieux scored 300 goals and 715 points in 368 games. Lemieux had already collected two Art Ross Trophies (1986,1988), two Lester B. Pearson Awards (1988,1989), a Hart Memorial Trophy (1988) and the Calder Trophy (1985) in his rookie season.
Amongst those accomplishments were four appearances (1985,1986,1988,1989) and two MVP awards (1985,1988) in the NHL’s annual showcase of the stars.
And the best was yet to come.
1990 NHL All-Star Game
Montreal was originally scheduled to host the All-Star Game but withdrew it’s bid, in the wake of Quebec City’s hosting of the Rendez-vous 87 series of games, that saw the NHL All-Stars vs. the U.S.S.R National Team (Lemieux collected three assists in the two games.) Pittsburgh had pitched to host the 1993 All-Star game but seized the opportunity to host the game three years earlier.
The Pittsburgh organizers also added two new events to transform the festivities into a true weekend event.
The first was a “Heroes of Hockey” game that featured Alumni of the Wales and Cambell Conferences facing off in a two-period game. Both teams featured several Penguins Alumni including Sly Apps, Bryan Watson, Andy Bathgate, Gilles Meloche, Eddie Shack, Michel Dion, and Peter Mahvolich.
The second event the organizers added was the SuperSkills competition. The event saw the All-Stars display their skills in three events: Shot Accuracy, Hardest Shot, and Goaltenders Competition. The winner of each competition received $2,500 and bragging rights.
Lemieux would be named an All-Star seven more times (1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003) but it was his performance in the 1990 game that led to the dawning of the age of “Super Mario”.