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Mario Lemieux immortalized in Pittsburgh with ‘Le Magnifique’ statue

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

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AP

PITTSBURGH -- The temperature in the city of Pittsburgh on Wednesday afternoon was a fitting 66 degrees on the day that the Penguins organization honored Mario Lemieux with a statue featuring the Hockey Hall of Famer and current team owner breaking through two defensemen -- an image immortalized in Sports Illustrated.

Who were the two poor souls that are forever bronzed with Lemieux? That would be Jeff Norton and Rich Pilon, formerly of the New York Islanders. Pilon told TSN's Bob McKenzie on Wednesday that he's honored to be a part of the statue, adding, "If you're going to get beat on a play and it's there for everyone to see forever, it might as well be Mario. He did that to a lot of defensemen."

Early last season, word leaked out that the Penguins were going to unveil the statue during the lead-up to the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field, but the plan was scrapped. David Morehouse told the crowd outside CONSOL Energy Center that he and other team executives approached Lemieux on several occasions about having a statue made in his honor, but the Penguins great kept saying no until co-owner Ron Burkle told him it was getting done no matter what.

So how did the team decide on that moment in Lemieux's career?

"We considered a number of options, including one of Mario hoisting the Stanley Cup as a player and one of him carrying the puck in full flight, but we decided this was the ultimate representation of what he did and who he was," said Penguins CEO David Morehouse.

"On the ice, Mario powered his way past defensemen to score incredible goals. Off the ice he overcame and broke through so many challenges."

Lemieux has stayed in the background for the most part since his retirement in 2006, but on a few occasions, like Wednesday afternoon, the larger than life Pittsburgh legend was once again front and center.

"You're always emotional," said Lemieux. "When they have a statue like this in your honor, it's something special for myself, my family and, of course, all the fans that have followed my career."

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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