Mario Lemieux wins the Art Ross Trophy as the National Hockey League’s top scorer on this day in 1988. Lemieux’s 168 points bested Wayne Gretzky, who had dominated the league as the top scorer for an amazing seven seasons.
Lemieux (in French, “le mieux” means “the best”) was born October 5, 1965, in Montreal, Quebec, and began playing hockey as a small boy. In 1984, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, then considered the worst team in the NHL. Lemieux played his first game with the team on October 11, 1984, and scored his first goal on his first shift and on his first shot. That season, he was the first rookie ever named Most Valuable Player at the NHL All-Star game. He finished his first season with 100 points, just the third rookie in NHL history to do so. He also received the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. During his second season, Lemieux was the NHL’s second-leading scorer (with 141 points) behind Wayne Gretzky’s 215 points, a record that still stands.
On April 3, 1988, Lemieux won the Art Ross trophy for leading the NHL in points (168), ending Wayne Gretzky’s streak of seven consecutive scoring titles. That year, “Super Mario” also won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, an award Gretzky had captured the previous eight seasons in a row. Lemieux went on to win the scoring title again in 1989, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1997.
In 1991, Lemieux came back from surgery for a herniated disc to lead the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup championship, over the Minnesota North Stars, and won the league’s Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. The Penguins repeated their Stanley Cup victory in 1992, by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks, and Lemieux took home the MVP trophy once again. In January 1993, Lemieux announced he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and missed two months of the season in order to undergo treatment; however, he returned in time to win his fourth scoring title later that season. On October 29, 1995, he scored his 500th goal in his 605th game; only the legendary Gretzky had a better record–500 goals in 575 games.
Plagued by injuries, Lemieux retired from hockey at the end of the 1996-1997 season. In 1999, he became the majority owner of the Penguins and rescued the team from bankruptcy. The next year, he delighted the Penguin faithful by rejoining the team as a player and staged a successful comeback before announcing his permanent retirement from the NHL, at age 40, in January 2006. During his career, he played 915 regular season games, scored 690 goals and made 1,033 assists for 1,723 points.