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Lemieux: After 2001-02, we'll see


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001

DENVER -- Mario Lemieux said he wants to play for the Canadian Olympic team at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

That means the NHL will have the world's greatest player in the fold for at least one more season.

"I'm going to finish this year and play next year and then see how it goes," the Penguins center and North American All-Star said Saturday. "I'm having a lot of fun now that I'm back in the game. It's something I missed quite a bit the last three years. I'm going to play as long as my body allows me to."

Said commissioner Gary Bettman: "That's great news for the game and for fans of the game."

Lemieux, 35, doesn't think he is playing his best, even though he has 16 goals and 16 assists and is plus-14 in 16 games since he came out of a 31/2-year retirement.

"I have to be able to beat guys one-on-one," said Lemieux, playing in his ninth All-Star game. "I have to be able to change directions with speed and get away from players, which is still not quite there. But I feel my legs are coming back, and hopefully in another couple of weeks I should be at the top of my game."

In other ways Lemieux is sharp as a skate blade.

He said his ownership duties have helped him better deal with fans and the media.

And the response to his return made him realize he must help carry the economic burden of the entire league.

He also better understands how players and ownership must work together to hold off a work stoppage when the collective bargaining agreement runs out after the 2003-04 season.

"There are a lot of things that are going to have to be addressed, but I think we can make it work," Lemieux said. "It's a matter of getting the right people together and striking a deal that makes sense for both of us; to be able to break even and have an opportunity to make some money."

Asked if he was speaking as a player or owner, he said, "Both."

The player responded to the Olympics.

"We should have a great team," he said. "I certainly want to be part of it."

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