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Lemieux Retires From NHL Again

Still bothered by an irregular heartbeat, Penguin captain and member of the Hall of Fame ends his career for a second time.

January 25, 2006|From the Washington Post

Mario Lemieux, one of hockey's most dominant players despite a career dogged by injury and illness, retired from the NHL for a second time Tuesday, saying he could no longer perform up to the level he expected because of an irregular heartbeat.

"It's always a difficult decision for any athlete to make," the Pittsburgh Penguins' captain and owner said, his eyes moist and voice trembling with emotion. "But I feel the time has come."

Lemieux, 40, was hospitalized last month because of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that causes his pulse to flutter wildly.

He tried to return to the lineup a week later, but the symptoms returned during a game on Dec. 16 against Buffalo and he has been out since.

"If I could play this game at a decent level, I would come back and play," Lemieux said. "But I've not been able to do that this year. And I don't see it getting better as time goes on. I can no longer play at the level I was accustomed to in the past."

Lemieux's heart condition flared up as recently as Monday. "Even to this day I'm not feeling 100%," Lemieux said at a news conference at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.

In 1999, Lemieux became the first major pro sports star to buy the team for which he played when he assembled a group that purchased the Penguins in federal bankruptcy court. His group has owned the team since, but it announced last week that the team was up for sale.

Lemieux, the Penguins' first overall draft pick in 1984, scored a goal on his first shift as a rookie. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound center went on to amass 690 goals and 1,033 assists in 915 games over 17 seasons, all as a Penguin.

Lemieux had been practicing in recent weeks in the hopes of playing again. But with his team mired in a 10-game losing streak and out of the playoff race, he thought it was time to leave the game.

"I was trying to play with it, practice with it, and trying to get back to the level I need to be to compete against all the great players we have in this league," said Lemieux, who had 22 points in 26 games this season. "That's a big part of why I'm retiring. I don't feel great every day when I wake up."

Lemieux said he's leaning toward having surgery to correct his heart ailment, rather than controlling it with medication.

"I don't want to take pills the rest of my life," Lemieux said. "It's not something I want to go through."

The 13-time All-Star led the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 and won an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2002. He won six NHL scoring titles, three Hart Trophy awards as the league's most valuable player and two Conn Smythe awards as the Stanley Cup playoffs MVP.

In 1997, Lemieux was elected to the Hockey Fall of Fame -- the same year he retired for the first time, forced from the game by years of back pain, a rare bone infection and Hodgkin's disease. He returned midway through the 2000-01 season, but sat out parts of the 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons because of hip problems.

Lemieux said he is confident he's leaving the game in good hands.

"Some young guys are dominating -- we have a few here in Pittsburgh -- and I think these young guys are really the future of the NHL," he said. "The game is in great shape, and it's only going to improve from now on."

Phoenix Coyote Coach Wayne Gretzky agreed, telling reporters in Phoenix: "It's always a tough situation when a great player has to retire. He's meant so much to not only the National Hockey League, but the city of Pittsburgh and that franchise."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

End of an era

Mario Lemieux, one of hockey's most dominant players, who played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has retired from the NHL for a second time. Career highlights:

Named rookie of the year in 1985.

* Won scoring title six times.

* Led Penguins to Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.

* Named most valuable player three times.

* Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 1997, the same year he retired for the first time. He returned midway through the 2000-01 season.

* Had 690 goals and 1,033 assists in 915 games. He ranks seventh overall with 1,723 points.

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