Thu, Jan 26, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Health issues end Lemieux's career

NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE Mario Lemieux returned to the ice after being hospitalized last month with an irregular heartbeat, but the problem wouldn't go away

AP , PITTSBURGH

Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates in Boston on Oct. 22, last year. Lemieux, one of hockey's greatest players, is retiring for the second time, a team official said on Tuesday. Lemieux has been plagued with an irregular heartbeat since December.

PHOTO: AP

Mario Lemieux, an ice hockey Hall of Famer who won Stanley Cups and NHL scoring titles before buying the Pittsburgh Penguins and then returning to the ice, retired from the game for a second time on Tuesday.

Lemieux, who has overcome cancer and battled heart problems in a comeback, announced his decision at a news conference.

"This is always a difficult decision for any athlete to make," Lemieux said.

The 40-year-old Lemieux learned in early December he has an irregular heartbeat that can cause his pulse to flutter wildly and must be controlled by medication.

Lemieux, the National Hockey League's seventh-leading career scorer with 1,723 points, tried to return a week after being hospitalized with the problem, but it flared up again during a Dec. 16 game against Buffalo and he has not played since.

Lemieux has been practicing the last several weeks with the intent on returning this season but, with the Penguins stuck in a 10-game losing streak and with no hope of them making the playoffs, decided to quit playing for a second time.

He also retired after the 1996-1997 season following years of back problems and a 1993 diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease, but he returned midway through the 2000-2001 season and has played since.

However, he has again fought through injuries -- including two major hip problems -- that caused him to miss most of the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 seasons. He had seven goals and 15 assists in 26 games this season.

Lemieux, a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1997, led the Penguins -- the NHL's worst team before he was drafted in 1984 -- to successive Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. He won six NHL scoring titles, three MVP awards and two Conn Smythe awards as the Stanley Cup playoffs MVP.

Lemieux, who wore No. 66 throughout his career, scored 690 goals and had 1,033 assists in 915 career games. He also became the first major pro sports star to buy the team for which he played, assembling a group that bought the team in federal bankruptcy court in 1999.

Lemieux's group has owned the team since but announced last week it is selling -- a possible prelude to the team leaving Pittsburgh in June 2007. One reason Lemieux is selling is because he doesn't want to be the owner who relocates the team from Pittsburgh.

Martin Brodeur made 24 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and Brian Gionta scored his 29th goal to help the New Jersey Devils beat the New York Islanders 4-0 on Tuesday for their 10th victory in 11 NHL games.

Brodeur, seventh on the NHL's career shutout list with 79, improved to 24-3-15 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.59. The Canadian Olympic goalie has all four of his shutouts this season in the last 11 games.

Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Gomez each had a goal and an assist, Viktor Kozlov also scored and Patrik Elias added two assists for the Devils.

Sabres 2, Rangers 1

At New York, Ales Kotalik had a goal and an assist to lead Buffalo.

Kotalik scored 1:53 into the third period after Rangers defenseman Marek Malik gave up the puck in his own end. Kotalik scooped up the loose puck, wheeled and fired a wrist shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist.

Ryan Miller made 23 saves for Buffalo.

Thomas Vanek gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 11:13 of the first period. Lundqvist stopped Kotalik's slap shot from the left point, but lost sight of the rebound long enough for Vanek to chip the puck high to the glove side for his 13th goal.

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