With the 1st Overall Pick in the 1st Round of the 1984 NHL Entry, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Mario Lemieux from the Laval Soisins Amateur Team. He was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1997 and has 2 official rookie cards and 3 rookie year alternates.
Mario Lemieux RC Awakening
A recent trend in the hobby is that of the investor/flipper. These folks have their eye on key cards of key blue-chip players like Mario Lemieux.
His career peaked in the early 90s so those collectors born in the 80s are now established adults looking to purchase their childhood heroes. This is why there is a current awakening of Mario RCs.
Mario was born in Montreal, Quebec, and has been labeled as the “French Wayne Gretzky” for his legendary style of play.
In fact, the two were compared to so much Mario is considered as an equal or a solid number two hockey player of all-time by many.
Mario Lemieux Rookie Year
Upon being drafted the marketing team for the Pittsburgh Penguins got to work and began to plaster the name and face of their young draft pick. A bit risky but Mario did not disappoint.
Like all rookies Mario was quickly tested on the ice, he did not back down and stood his ground when it came to a fight.
Mario immediately razzles dazzled his opponents and was MVP of the 1985 All-Star Game and Rookie of the Year Award, but Mario was just getting started.
On the Ice
Defensively there seemed to be no way to stop him. In a one-on-one situation, forget about it, he would “beat em like a rented mule!”
He was the hardest player to defend because he could do so many different things, he had a knack to read defenders, draw them in, and with a series of moves fool them and score.
In an era of instant replay he amazed fans and opponents with his abilities, he scored with such ease and smoothness. As a play by play commentator Mike Lange would say,
HEEEEEE SHOOTS AND SCORES! YOU’D HAVE TO BE HERE TO BELIEVE IT!
Lemieux had some very memorable moments on the ice as well. On New Year’s Eve in 1988, he scored five goals in five different ways.
There’s that 46 game scoring streak, he had to bow out due to severe back pain and was only six games shy of the record.
Oh yeah, and there’s that signature goal he had during the 1991 Stanly Cup Playoffs where he took on three defenders with a crossover-like move similar to what Michael Jordan did against the Lakers. He then baited the goalie and scored with a backhanded shot.
Mario Lemieux Health Challenges
At the apex of his career, Mario Lemieux had some major challenges to overcome with his health.
He had major back surgery in 1991 and upon his return, Lemieux led his team through the playoffs and onto a Stanley Cup Championship.
The following season Mario was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease and by the mid-90s a second back surgery was needed.
Mario overcame it all, did not complain, and was focused on his return to the ice. Each time he returned its as he never left.
Pushing himself to play had taken its toll on Mario, he played only 17 games during the 1993-94 season and opted to retire and did not play during the 1994-95 season but he returned in 1996!
Career Stats & Accomplishments
Games Played 915 | Goals 690 | Assist 1,033 | Points 1,723 | Game Winning Goals 74
- 2x Stanley Cup Champion
- 9x NHL All-Star Team
- 3x Hart Memorial Trophy
- 4x Ted Lindsay Award
- 2x Conn Smythe Trophy
- 6x Art Ross Trophy
- 1992-93 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
- 1984-85 Calder Memorial Trophy
One of his greatest achievements, in my opinion, was in 1997. The Pittsburgh Penguins were on the verge of bankruptcy, Mario got together with some other investors and purchased the Penguins.
He was the team’s Owner/CEO and came out of retirement to join the team at the age of 35, he felt good and played great. Board meetings by day and hockey games at night!
Upon his return, he led his team to the playoffs but they did not advance to the Stanley Cup. Soon after that he took the international stage and led the Canadians to their first Gold Medal in 50 years.
Mario Lemieux played for 17 seasons all of them with the Penguins, he is the most respected athlete in Pittsburgh, he’s given so much back to the community. Many in Pittsburgh will say that he is the best ever.
1985 Topps, #9 (RC)
1985 Topps is a 165 card set and released as a single series. This American version of the 1985 Topps Hockey was the first to be released. It can be viewed as the “parent” hockey brand released by Topps.
Their Canadian O-Pee-Chee brand was released later in the year and features multiple cards of Mario which we will review momentarily.
Here we have a clean, simple design by Topps and it features a great team logo and a young Mario. Oddly, there are no brand logos on the front of the card.
The card back gives us red cardboard, player bio, stats, and commentary. It may go without saying but Mario is the key card in the set.
Due to counterfeiting, I recommend purchasing graded copies.
1985 O-Pee-Chee, #9 (RC)
1985 O-Pee-Chee is a 264 card set released as a single series.
It mimics the parent Topps copy almost entirely except for French translations on the card back and branding. Another distinct feature on the card back is a brighter cardboard stock.
Today, the O-Pee-Chee brand is owned by Upper Deck but in 1985 the company was owned by Topps and printed in Canada, this is the reason for the French translation. It mimics the Topps design almost entirely.
This O-Pee-Chee card and the Topps featured above are the only two official rookie cards that Mario Lemieux has.
Let’s look at some other early card releases!
1985 O-Pee-Chee, #262 (RYC)
Since Mario had such an immediate impact on his rookie season, winning MVP of the All-Star Game for starters, and since the O-Pee-Chee brand was released late in the season many Mario cards are featured.
For example, this second card of Mario was issued in the set. It’s a subset card featuring Mario as a Rookie Scoring Leader.
Lots of color on the card front but not a fan of the photo. The card back features a top ten list of leading rookie scorers. Very cool.
However, historically when a player has more than one card in a set the first card featured is technically the rookie card.
This is still an early card released in his rookie year and collectors gravitate towards these as well.
1985 O-Pee-Chee Sticker, #97 (RYC)
The packs of ’85 O-Pee-Chee came with 12 cards and 1 sticker. There are a total of 255 sticker cards available. They measure a bit smaller at 2-1/8″ x 3″ in diameter, and feature this sticker of Mario Lemieux.
The sticker front offers a game day photo of our featured Hall of Famer and it sits within a yellow border surrounded by a white border.
The sticker back offers a mail-in order of a Team Puck with 25 sticker backs plus shipping, there was a sticker album available too.
Traditionally, sticker cards can not be considered rookie cards because there not a part of the base set, these are considered a subset, and subsets can not produce official rookie cards.
1985 O-Pee-Chee, Box Bottom #I (RYC)
Another subset offered in ’85 OPC was Box Bottom cards. 48 packs were inserted into each box and at the bottom of the box was a four card panel that featured a variety of cards.
The checklist has 25 cards and Mario is the key card again.
Gameday action photo with a yellow border, the card back is very similar to the official rookie card listed above, it too offers French translation but the main difference is in the numbering which they actually use letters for this subset.
These cards are hard to find in good condition because these had to be hand-cut from the four-card panel.
Box bottom cards are not considered rookie cards either but they are definitely a rookie year option.
NOTE: The Topps brand also offers this box bottom variant of Mario Lemieux, and they sell for a third of what the O-Pee-Chee version sells for.
1985 7-Eleven Credit Card, #15 (RYC)
A unique oddball card of Mario Lemieux is this convenience store release.
I couldn’t find much information on these but I know that PSA is only showing 209 of these have been graded.
This tells me it was probably a regional set released in the Pittsburgh area.
This card technically is not a credit card but it does measure like one 3-3/8″ x 2-1/8.”
A very young Mario is featured with teammate Mike Bullard.
The back of the card shows us that this is a 25 card set, and some commentary on the Penguins organization.
Happy Collecting Collectors,
Learn. Collect. Enjoy.