Super Mario Laces Up

Add "box office draw" to Mario Lemieux's joint titles of owner and player.

The six-time NHL scoring champion started his comeback Tuesday by practicing with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time since his retirement in 1997.

With 500 fans in the stands about 490 more than normal Lemieux hit the ice at the Penguins' practice complex to massive applause at 10:51 a.m. He said he got to practice two hours early and lost sleep Monday night because he was nervous.

"Everybody is going to have to be patient. I am not going to step on the ice and score five or six points my first game," Lemieux said.

Lemieux, also a part-owner of the team, took part in routine skating drills and drew another big cheer when he steered the puck into the net during a three-on-one drill.

The fans applauded any time Lemieux touched the puck, and the first 15 minutes of practice was televised live on a a cable sports channel.

"It was fun to be back on the ice and doing drills again," Lemieux said.

Lemieux announced two weeks ago he would abandon his 3 1/2-year retirement because he thought the Penguins were close to contending for the Stanley Cup.

Penguins forward Martin Straka stuck his head out of the locker room half an hour before practice, saw the large crowd and said, "Oh my gosh."

The 35-year-old Lemieux will join the Penguins on a two-game Florida road trip Wednesday and Thursday but does not plan to play until Dec. 27 in the first of four home games.

The comeback excited teammates who say the team can use Lemieux's leadership with four-time scoring champion Jaromir Jagr in a slump.

"Overall, it was a good first day," Lemieux said. "I just had to get used again to the speed on the ice. I have to get used to the traffic again."

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