As far as Mario Lemieux comebacks go, it was far from a classic. But it didn't matter to the jersey-clad Penguins fans who took in the alumni game at Heinz Field on Friday morning.
Lemieux was the star attraction in the tune-up to Saturday's Winter Classic — playing for the first time in a public setting since his second retirement from the NHL in January 2006.
The 45-year-old owner of the Penguins has been skating in some pickup games with other members of the organization to get in shape and appears to still have the great hands that made him a three-time Hart Trophy winner and six-time NHL scoring champion. Other parts of his body weren't quite as sharp.
Crosby's streak more impressive: Mario
In Mario Lemieux's eyes, Sidney Crosby is in the midst of a season that has eclipsed anything he accomplished during a Hall of Fame career.
Crosby currently leads the NHL with 32 goals and 65 points and had a 25-game point streak stopped in Long Island on Wednesday night. Even though Lemieux once recorded at least a point in 46 straight games, he believes Crosby's achievement was superior.
"I think it's much tougher now to dominate the way the league is set up," said Lemieux. "For him to go out there and do the things he does every night, every shift, is incredible. His talent is unbelievable -- his strength, skating abilities, his shooting ability has gotten better the last couple years.
"What he's doing now is much more impressive than what I did years ago."
He is most familiar with Crosby, who spent five years living with Lemieux and his family before moving out on his own this year. The owner believes the key to his captain's success lies in his preparation.
"He thinks about hockey 24 hours a day, even in his sleep it seems like," said Lemieux.
"The legs are not very good," Lemieux said during the game.
Super Mario played in a Winter Classic tuque complete with pom-pom and wasted no time making an impact. He set up Rob Brown for the opening goal a little over four minutes into a game.
"It took 23 years but he finally got me my 50th [goal]," quipped Brown.
Lemieux also earned an assist on a power-play goal by Ron Francis in a game that saw the Penguins legends tie the Capitals alumni 5-5 in front of roughly 10,000 fans.
Organizers could easily have sold more tickets, but were concerned about having the stadium ready for Saturday afternoon's Winter Classic game between Pittsburgh and Washington. Some current members of the teams took in the alumni game and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was booed loudly when he came out to watch.
It was a mild 7 C and sunny on Friday morning. Rain continues to be in the forecast for Saturday and threatens to delay the Winter Classic.
Lemieux made a series of comebacks during a career where he successfully battled cancer and famously returned in 2000 after three years away from hockey. In his first game back, Lemieux set up a goal 33 seconds into a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and ended up finishing with three points.
He would go on to rack up 76 points in just 43 games in 2000-01.
Lemieux played parts of four more seasons — helping Canada win gold at the 2002 Olympics — before retiring for good. While there is isn't another comeback in the offing this time, Lemieux clearly enjoyed his return to the rink.
"It's a great day for hockey for sure," he said.