Penguins Owner Mario Lemieux is Head Coach of the Penguins Elite Tier 16 Team
Saturday, 10.16.2010 / 4:51 PM / Features
By Sam Kasan
Hockey Hall of Famer and Penguins chairman Mario Lemieux was at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday morning. But he wasn’t sitting in usual seat in the owner’s box. Instead, Lemieux was behind the bench.
Lemieux is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Tier 16 Team, a local traveling squad comprised of top amateur players, including Lemieux’s son, Austin, from Pittsburgh born in 1996.
Penguins Elite head coach Mario Lemieux behind the bench at CONSOL Energy Center
“When it comes to hockey, it’s been in my blood since I was 3 or 4 years old. I love coaching the kids, especially at that level,” Lemieux said. “I’ve been doing it for four or five years. It’s a lot of fun for me trying to teach these kids and see them develop from the beginning of the season to the end. It’s very satisfying at the end of the day.”
The Penguins Elite are competing in the Tier 1 ’96 Super Series amateur hockey tournament, which is taking place at various rinks around Pittsburgh over the weekend, and was hosted by CONSOL Energy Center Saturday.
“This arena is a special place. Everybody loves it. To be able to stand behind the bench and be a part of a great tournament for the ’96 Elite is fun,” Lemieux said. “The kids, having a chance to play in the building where the Penguins play, it’s a special feeling for them.”
Lemieux’s interest in coaching was aroused when Austin began playing the sport. To play such a big role in his son’s development as a player is an opportunity Lemieux truly cherishes.
“My son, he is the reason I got involved,” Lemieux said. “It’s been a joy to be around him and teach him the stuff that I know, and to the other kids as well. When he started playing I wanted to be involved in his hockey career. It’s a lot of fun for both of us.
“It’s been very special to be close to him. Not a lot of parents get to experience that, to be able to coach their son at this level. I’m taking advantage of it. The years are going by too quickly. I’m trying to savor every moment.”
Penguins Elite forward Austin Lemieux
Lemieux’s Penguins Elite captured the title in the first ’96 Super Series Sept. 26 in Tampa Bay.
They improved to 3-0 in the current tournament with a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Thunderbirds at CONSOL Energy Center thanks to goals by Joseph Zottola, Bryan Sienerth, Luke Lynch and Keenan Murray.
Their head coach has been pleased with the results.
“The kids are playing well. We haven’t lost a game so far in this tournament,” Lemieux said. “They’re starting to turn the corner from a month ago. We’re playing a lot better. It’s very encouraging.”
Lemieux is the greatest player in hockey history. He has accomplished more as a player and owner than anyone in modern sports. Thus, he brings a unique perspective and style behind the bench.
Lemieux wants the kids to only learn, but enjoy the game and have fun. The only thing he asks of his players is that they give all of their effort.
“I’m not a tough coach on the kids,” Lemieux said. “I don’t yell or scream. I’m pretty calm behind the bench. At this level the main thing is to work hard and learn the fundamentals of the game. As long as they work hard, win or lose, I’m pretty happy if the effort is there.”
The Tier 1 ’96 Super Series tournament concludes Sunday. The fact that the series chose Pittsburgh to host the tournament is another testament to how much the sport of hockey is growing in the region, and that Pittsburgh is being recognized on a national level.
Lemieux huddles up with his players
The Penguins and CONSOL Energy Center reached out to be a part of the tournament in their continued effort to support amateur hockey, an initiative that comes from not only the owner of the franchise, but an active participant in amateur hockey himself – Mario Lemieux.
“I think it’s important for the Penguins to reach out to the kids and grow the game as much as we can here in Pittsburgh,” Lemieux said. “We’ve come a long way over the last 20 years. I remember coming here my first year (in 1984), we only had a couple rinks to skate. Now a lot of rinks are around the city. A lot more kids are playing. A lot better players, it’s very encouraging.
“I think we need to do as much as we can to give back to these young kids growing up. I think we’ve done a pretty decent job so far.”
: Lemieux wasn’t the only former NHL player at the Tier 1 ’96 Super Series. Pierre Turgeon is an assistant coach with Colorado and Brian Bradley is head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “A lot of the tournaments that we go to I’ve seen a lot of players that I’ve played against,” Lemieux said. “They all have kids about the same age. Everywhere we go I see old faces that I used to battle on the ice. Now we’re buddy-buddy.”
Lemieux has been blown away by how much hockey has taken root in Pittsburgh since he entered the NHL in 1984, especially now that the region is producing professional hockey talent. “It took a few years to flourish but we’ve come a long way. There are a few kids in the NHL that grew up in Pittsburgh, which is nice to see. I think you’ll see a lot more in the future.”