No one can argue that Mario Lemieux’s numbers during his remarkable NHL career were better than Wayne Gretzky’s. However, many still claim that when he was healthy and injury-free, Mario was the most skilled player to ever play the game.
Mario Lemieux won the Calder Trophy in his rookie year, and it was just the beginning. He went on to win two Cups, six Art Ross Trophies, and three Hart Trophies—but injuries and illness heavily took a toll on his stats.
Lemieux saved the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise, and his legacy as the probably second greatest player ever will never be forgotten.
When Wayne Gretzky retired, the NHL decided to make a unique decision. No number had ever been retired league-wide, but players can’t wear the number 99 since Gretzky retired. Throughout his career, Mario Lemieux always played with the number 66.
The number still isn’t retired league-wide, but it’s somewhat of an unwritten rule that you don’t wear it. Since Lemieux’s retirement, only two players (TJ Brodie and Josh Ho-Sang) have worn the number for a short time, but Lemieux doesn’t seem to mind.
“I’m fine with it,” Lemieux told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s just a number. No. 4 and No. 9 were worn by great players (Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe, respectively), and they are not retired forever. Players can choose whatever number they want.”
But why did Mario Lemieux wear No. 66 in the first place? Wayne Gretzky wanted to wear number 9—for his hockey hero Gordie Hower—but as it was taken, he settled on 99. And Gretzky had something to do with Lemieux’s number selection as well.
”66 is 99 upside down, and I had the same agent as Wayne as a junior, and I wanted to have my own number,” Lemieux once told Sportsnet.
”So they just said,’ Why don’t you pick 99 upside down? 66!’ So that’s the story,” Lemieux continued.