Mario Lemieux and Top 5 NHL Candidates for a Hollywood Biography
With the recent passing of Pat Burns I have heard some in the media talking about the possibility of making a movie about his life. He was a colorful character who experienced great success in the NHL so it's easy to see why a movie about him would be a good idea.
I began to think what hockey players would I like to see up on the big screen and I narrowed it down to five. All of these players have bigger than life personalities and stories that go beyond the statistics you read about in the archives. Not many people would sit down for a couple of hours to watch an athlete merely put up big numbers.
So without further ado, here are the top five players that directors should be thinking about.
5: Pavel Bure
There haven't been many players to play in the NHL that were as electrifying as Pavel Bure. In fact, I could make the argument that he is the most dynamic edge-of-your-seat player ever to put on skates in the history of the league. I was fortunate to see him play dozens of time in person during his day on the Vancouver Canucks.
However, there is more to Bure's story than his dazzling moves on the ice. From an early age he was destined for great things in hockey. He was selected as a young teenager to play with Wayne Gretzky and Vladimir Tretiak for a television special. He went on to play for team Russia when they were known as the Central Red Army before coming to North America.
When Vancouver drafted him it wasn't without significant controversy. There were many questions about his eligibility and Soviet authorities intervened and resisted his transfer. He had fears that his younger brother, Valeri, would suffer consequences if he decided to defy them.
Once he arrived he was quickly married to a fashion model to avoid deportation issues. It wasn't long after that when he was apparently engaged to tennis star Anna Kournikova. Both denied these stories and Kournikova went on to marry fellow Russian hockey player Sergei Fedorov.
Another fascinating storyline is his apparent ties to Russian mafia members. There were many rumors and reports that he was making payments to extortionists earlier in his career and it is still uncertain what the truth behind these claims are.
4: Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy should go down as the greatest goalie of all time by the time all is said and done. Yes, I am biased - full disclosure. However, there is more to this personality than that debate. He is perhaps one of the most polarizing figures to ever play between the pipes. Cocky as heck, this tyrannical figure made you love him or hate him depending on what side of the line you were on.
"Saint Patrick's" career got off to a blazing start with a Conne Smythe trophy and Stanley Cup ring in his rookie season and the rest was history. There are stories of his locker room speeches during the playoffs that are a thing of legend and there are even more that have remained untold.
This is not to say that a biography would be full of praises and accolades because his career came to a screeching halt when he had his infamous altercation at the Montreal Forum in 1995. He packed his bags and equaled his success for the Colorado Avalanche. During the course of his career Roy was never shy to speak his mind and get into verbal jousts with other premier players. He came out and spoke up about the politics behind his exclusion of Team Canada lineups when he was in the prime of his career.
This fiery personality continued to rear it's head during his post-retirement days as a junior coach. In one infamous incident he was caught on film directing his son to go down the ice to get involved in an all-out brawl. In another incident he allegedly threw punches at the co-owner in a post-game incident involving fans blocking the team bus.
In his personal life, Roy's ex-wife had made a hang-up phone call to 911 in a domestic violence case which saw Roy taken into custody. The case was eventually dismissed, but it's clear that Roy's temperamental nature was not restricted to on-ice competition.
Despite his problems off the ice, Roy revolutionized the goaltender position and inspired thousands of young players to follow in his path.
3: Saku Koivu
It's hard to say anything bad about Saku Koivu. He has been a captain wherever he has played. Montreal Canadiens, Team Finland, and the Anaheim Ducks. He is simply a guy that commands respect on and off the ice. He dispelled the stereotype that European players are soft when he brought his gritty, relentless style of play to North America in 1995. Koivu wore his heart on his sleeve and played much bigger than his size.
However, this style did not come without a price. He was often injured early in his career and just when he thought things would turn around he was diagnosed with cancer. It was a gut-wrenching time for him and all of those that cared for him. He sought out the guidance of Mario Lemieux and reached out to John Cullen and Lance Armstrong. Thousands of fans sent their support his way and he overcame the disease.
Many thought that he would take the summer to recover his strength and return the following season, but he made a remarkable recovery and returned to the Habs for the final regular season game and received an eight minute standing ovation. To this date it was one of the most moving tributes I've seen in the sport.
As if he didn't suffer enough problems, Koivu almost lost his eye during a game and doctors had to repair a detached retina in an emergency operation. It's hard enough imagining these trials and tribulations so it's a tribute to him that he was able to overcome them.
One would think that after battlings these problems and giving his all to his team that the fans and media would be a little bit more forgiving of him, but he played in Montreal, not Columbus. Near the end of his time in Montreal he was publicly criticized for not using French in a pre-taped video before a game.
Of a script-writer is looking for an athlete with a personal story of courage and triumph, they need to look no further than Saku Koivu.
2: Cammi Granato
How many people were expecting to see Cammi Granato on this list? I might be able to count that number on one hand, but this isn't an indictment on the reader. Hockey is a male dominated sport from the top to the bottom and at all levels. Women have made some progress over the years, but most people would probably be a little surprised to know that the cold dark days of oppressive patriarchal practices are not entirely a thing of the past.
For these reasons, Cammi Granato's career and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is a story that should not be overlooked. In fact she is one of the most decorated female hockey players in the history of the sport. A biography that takes a look at the challenges she faced would be a fascinating tale. Too often hockey is viewed through the privileged, male point of view. Seeing the sport through her eyes is a movie worth making.
1: Mario Lemieux
No, the number one player in need of a biographical movie is not Wayne Gretzky. ESPN did a great job telling the story about his trade to L.A. in the popular 30 for 30 series, but for me Mario Lemieux's life story is much more interesting.
From the moment Lemieux put on a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, his career on and off the ice has been remarkable. He blazed through the league putting up gaudy numbers year after year and many people consider him a better player than Wayne Gretzky. He never received the same accolades as the "Great One", but Lemieux suffered crippling injuries throughout his career and like Saku Koivu, a bout with cancer.
He overcame these setbacks and regained his health, but i didn't come without a price. He retired from hockey for a while, but eventually returned to the ice even though he was a partial owner of the team. However, this situation was a precarious one because there were signficant financial problems with the club and he had to defer his salary and trade away many key players to keep the team afloat. This situation was unique and proved to be a conflict of interest when the collective bargaining contract had to be renegotiated.
Even with all of these obstacles, Lemieux has managed to revive the team and keep it in Pittsburgh. They just opened the long overdue and sought after arena and the franchise is in great hands with Sid the Kid leading the way.
It's strange to think that he was born on the exact same day as Patrick Roy, only a couple hundred kilometers apart, but these two legends have carved out unbelievable paths in their sport. Lemieux's life and career transcends sport itself and his influence extends far beyond the rink.