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September 06, 2017

Dave King Did Not Invite Mario Lemieux To 1984 Olympic Team

Dave King spent the better part of a decade piecemealing together teams of speedy, undersized, defensive forwards who couldn't score to take on the world's best at the Olympics.

It didn't work very well. No medals in 1984 or 1988, and then a silver medal in 1992 - thanks in large part to the presence of junior sensation Eric Lindros.

King did attempt to inject junior stars before Lindros. King was named as Canada's coach at the 1982 and 1983 world junior championships. The ultimate goal, of course, to win medals. He got a much-celebrated gold in 1982 and bronze in 1983. But the exercise was also in part a scouting trip for King to beef up his 1984 national team with some junior help.

King ended up adding Kirk Muller, Russ Courtnall and Dave Gagner, while passing on another junior sensation you may have heard of - Mario Lemieux.

Yes, that's right. Mario Lemieux could have been on Canada's 1984 Olympic team. The same Mario Lemieux who scored 133 goals and 282 points that season in Laval. The same Mario Lemieux who became arguably the most unstoppable offensive player in history.

But there was a small problem. King did not like Lemieux, and the feeling became mutual.

King wanted his players to play a 200 foot game, working as hard on defense as on offense. He liked, almost to a fault, less-talented scrubs who worked their tails off.

Lemieux did not play like that back then, or most of his career. It was all offense. In those days that was acceptable for otherworldly talents like Number 66. It was even a smart coaching strategy.

But it was not acceptable to King, who clashed with Lemieux at the 1983 World Juniors. He even sat Lemieux on the bench for extended periods of time when the game was assured and he wanted to give others ice time. And he did not invite Lemieux to the Olympic program because of his lack of commitment to the defensive side of the game.

King also knew Lemieux was not likely to accept, as he was very critical of the way King handled him at the WJC's. Mario even went so far as to - unfairly - suggest King was anti-Francophone.

Lemieux ultimately took the high road on the Olympics, saying he would not leave his junior team because he wanted to break Guy Lafleur's junior scoring records. His agent had promised him a million dollar contract if he did. (That promise went unfulfilled as he reportedly settled for $750,000 each year for two years on his first contract with Pittsburgh. That was still pretty impressive money in those days. Six year veteran Wayne Gretzky was not making a whole lot more. )

The unofficial word was Lemieux would never play for Hockey Canada as long as King was coach. The only time he did play in a World Championships was when Doug Carpenter coached in 1985. And for many years he declined playing for Canada at the World Championships even though Pittsburgh did not make the playoffs. No reason was ever officially given, often leaving Lemieux's agents and coaches to do the public speaking.

Lemieux, like all junior players, was far from perfect but the guy could score. King was singularly focused on winning with defense. It's too bad the two sides could not have found a way to co-exist as teenaged Lemieux would have been an interesting watch back in the 1984 Olympics.

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