Mario scores high praise

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

DENVER -- It wasn't just a thrill or a pleasure to skate alongside Mario Lemieux.

To Flames defenceman Andrew Ference, who spent a few seasons with Lemieux in Pittsburgh, it was something more.

"It was an honour to play with a guy like him," Ference said yesterday upon hearing Super Mario had announced his retirement.

"And to be with him in the playoffs when he was on fire and taking over games is special, especially when it's at the start of your career. It was unbelievable."

As news spread throughout the NHL yesterday that Lemieux -- owner, player, two-time Stanley Cup champion -- had decided to hang 'em up for good, those who'd played with him were counting their blessings.

After all, the talent Lemieux possessed has rarely been seen.

"You're not going to learn how to stickhandle like him or pass like him but to be on the receiving end of some of those great passes is outstanding," Ference said.

Flames captain Jarome Iginla was a teammate at both the 2002 Olympics, a gold-medal moment he will never forget, and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. They were even linemates during the World Cup.

"How he treats people is amazing," Iginla said. "Being a young guy, it was great how me made me feel welcome coming onto his line. Those things really go a long way and that's why he was as great as he was.

"I was very lucky to get a chance to play with him after it looked like he wasn't going to come back and to get a chance to play against him. That was one of my biggest thrills.

"I remember my first game against Wayne Gretzky and I remember my first game against Mario Lemieux. I feel fortunate to have played against him."

Former Flame and current Colorado Avalanche defenceman Bob Boughner was a Penguin when Lemieux went from being the owner to a player/owner.

"Everyone was so unsure with the transition, how that was going to be, but it was unbelievable," Boughner said. "Even though he had that executive power, he just became one of the guys and a treat for everybody being a regular player.

"He was always good to me. I enjoyed my time playing with him. It's something you always remember."


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