As Mario’s son, Austin Lemieux tries to stay true to himself
Standing in a locker room in the sprawling, $70 million hockey and sports facility that bears his surname, Austin Lemieux was asked about what it’s been like growing up in Pittsburgh with a father who is arguably the most recognizable person in town.
“I just try to do my own thing. You have the ups and downs of being his son; it’s great,” Austin Lemieux said after a Penguins development camp practice session he took part in. “I just try to be myself.”
Lemieux is one of three prospects at the camp who have fathers that had memorable NHL careers. But with all due respect to gritty former Red Wings forward Martin Lapointe (his son, Philippe, is a winger at the Penguins’ camp) and current Sharks coach Peter DeBoer (his son, Jack, is a center there), neither comes even close to matching the accomplishments and fame of Austin’s father, Mario.
Mario Lemieux, of course, played 17 seasons for the Penguins between 1984-2005, captaining them to two Stanley Cup championships. You might have heard he also led a group that bought the team in 1999 and serves as co-owner and chairman now.
Being son of the owner can carry with it something of a burden at something such as a prospect camp. But for Austin Lemieux, it’s nothing new. From the moment he was born (Mario scored five goals that night in the spring of 1996), Austin — for better or worse — was always going to be known as Mario’s son.
But the younger Lemieux is poised to make a name for himself in hockey beginning this fall in Tempe, Ariz., when he begins his college career for Division I Arizona State.
— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) April 12, 2017
Lemieux redshirted last season as a sports management major. Now 22 and appearing in his third Penguins development camp at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Austin Lemieux has become one of the “veterans” the younger players at these camps look to.
Of course, even at his first camp, players were looking up to Lemieux — and not just because he stands a lean and long 6-foot-3. With a father who perhaps is the greatest player of all time, Austin knows he’s going to draw attention.
Austin said he leans on his father “almost every day.”
“He gives some pointers and stuff like that,” Austin said. “He’s great to ask some questions.”
Then again, dad is not the only Hall of Fame-caliber mentor Austin has access too — or even has shared a residence with. Sidney Crosby lived at the Lemieux house for several years after the Penguins drafted him in 2005.
“He’s more a mentor and a friend to me,” said Austin, who is the second-youngest of four children — and only son — of Mario and Nathalie. “I look up to him. Just like my dad, if I have any questions, he’s not shy to help out. He’s a great person to have.”
In his most recent season of play, Lemieux led the United States Premier Hockey League in points (74) and assists (54).
Each about four years younger than Lemieux and having played at a higher level this past season, Jack DeBoer (22 points in 61 games) and Philippe Lapointe (26 points in 59 games) did not have such gaudy statistics, but both are still possible future NHL prospects.
Though neither was taken last week in the first draft he was eligible for, DeBoer and Lapointe — like Lemieux — committed to play at Division I colleges: DeBoer at Boston and Lapointe to Michigan.
For Lapointe, that’s something of full circle; he was born toward the end of the ninth of 10 seasons that father Martin would play for the Red Wings — Detroit is about 45 minutes from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus.
Of course, Philippe doesn’t remember his dad playing for the Red Wings; his only memories of Martin’s NHL career come from when he wore the Blackhawks logo from 2005-08.
“I remember just looking around the locker room seeing those guys,” said Philippe, who was 8 when Martin played his final game. “It was pretty cool to see that and see how their habits and how they prepared every day and interacted with each other. You learn how big a responsibility it is to be a good person and to lead and to be part of a community.”
DeBoer expressed similar lessons learned from being around the Panthers and Devils teams his dad coached when he was younger. Although Peter DeBoer, Jack said, resisted bringing family into the locker room too often, Jack said he used his father as his role model.
“He’s been everything to me,” Jack DeBoer said. “He got me into the game at a young age, and he’s been there for me ever since, showing me the way and showing me how to be a pro on and off the ice. So he’s been huge for me.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.