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Bartkowski: If not for Mario Lemieux, I wouldn’t be playing hockey

May 28, 2013, 3:27 PM EDT

Matt Bartkowski Getty Images

It all must be a little surreal for Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski.

A native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, Bartkowski is about to face off against the team he used to support as a youngster, with a trip to the Stanley Cup finals on the line.

Oh, and one of his Boston teammates happens to be one of his boyhood idols, Jaromir Jagr.

In fact, Bartkowski, 24, told reporters today that he grew up with posters of Jagr and Mario Lemieux on his wall.

He also credited Lemieux, now the owner of the Penguins, for playing hockey in the first place.

“I was part of the Lemieux era and I probably wouldn’t have been skating if he wasn’t there,” said Bartkowski, per Dan Cagen of the MetroWest Daily News.

Before Pittsburgh drafted Lemieux first overall in 1984, the Penguins were on the verge of financial collapse. Average attendance at the old Civic Arena was a mere 6,839 during the 1983-84 season, which saw the Pens post a record of 16-58-6. (See: this Sports Illustrated article.)

Fast forward to the present (past another financial crisis barely averted for the club) and it’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin that are helping youth-hockey participation rates skyrocket in Western Pennsylvania.

As we wrote this morning, Bartkowski, along with defensive partner Johnny Boychuk, could be seeing a lot of Crosby in the Bruins-Penguins series.

“It’s kind of cool that I get to play playoffs in my home town,” Bartkowski said, “but at the end of the day I’m on Boston and that’s Pittsburgh and we’re there to win.”

  1. matthews4 - May 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    If it wasn’t for Iginla he wouldn’t be in Boston

    • ironmike778 - May 28, 2013 at 6:50 PM

      Thank you, Iginla.

  2. modellforprez - May 28, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    can def. agree with that and know for a fact if those teams were not championship type teams pittsburgh would not be a hockey tahn the is now.

    • Tyler - May 28, 2013 at 5:09 PM

      English isn’t your strong suit, eh?

    • jcmeyer10 - May 28, 2013 at 7:51 PM

      Boston wasn’t much better during the lean years in the early and mid 00’s when the number of season ticket holders dropped to around 5,000.

      People like winning. No need to call out one franchise.

  3. JoeAvg - May 28, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    I was frequently one of those 6,000 (plus or minus). Good times for the visiting teams.

  4. buckeye044 - May 28, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    Go Bucks!

  5. ebergevin - May 28, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    No one called anyone out. Lemieux rescued hockey in Western PA and Bartkowski is thankful of that. Way to create a non-story. Congrats!

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