Originally created 12/06/01

Lemieux still wants to play in Olympics



PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux is still on the mend and isn't ready yet to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That doesn't mean the Olympics are out.

Lemieux apparently intends to fulfill his commitment to play in the Olympics for the first time - and be Canada's captain - despite a hip injury that has sidelined him for all but three of the Penguins' last 17 games.

According to a source close to Lemieux who spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity, the Penguins' star is expected to reaffirm his intention of playing for Canada once he returns to practice.

However, the Penguins aren't certain when he will be back on the ice or how long it will take him to get into shape again once he resumes practicing. Coach Rick Kehoe said he could practice as early as Friday, although Lemieux has not indicated when he might be back.

"Hopefully, when we get back to Pittsburgh, he'll be able to practice with us," Kehoe said Tuesday in Toronto. "That's what we're hoping."

Even if Lemieux practices within a week - and that might be an optimistic view - he might not return to game action until late in the month, or about the same time he made his comeback last season.

However, even if Lemieux doesn't return until January, he is expected to play for Canada during the Feb. 15-24 Olympics medal round as long as he has no more injury setbacks, the source said.

That would run counter to Canadian TV reports that Lemieux was leaning toward not playing in the Olympics because of the injury. The opposite was true, the source said, and Lemieux likely would prefer to play during the NHL's nearly two-week break - not just because he has never played in the Olympics, but to keep himself in shape after his long layoff.

Lemieux has been sidelined so much of the season - he has played only 11 games, and did not finish all of those - he might end up playing only about as much as he did last season, when he ended a 44-month retirement in late December.

Lemieux had arthroscopic hip surgery Oct. 29 and was expected to be out 3-to-4 weeks, but returned Nov. 10 after missing six games. However, he was sidelined again after three games when the pain came back, and he has practiced only once since.

As the Penguins' owner as well as their captain, Lemieux might have felt extra pressure to return as soon as possible because his presence in the lineup sells tickets.

Kehoe said recently that Lemieux probably should have waited longer to return, but he insisted Lemieux did not further damage the hip by coming back when he did.

Lemieux has been told that only rest can heal the injury, and he has remained away from the practice rink and team offices during his layoff. He also did not accompany the team on a four-city, nine-day road trip that ends Thursday in Boston.

The Penguins, who got back to .500 at 11-11-3-2 by beating Toronto 1-0 Tuesday, are 6-8-2 without Lemieux.



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