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Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Evening With Mario Lemieux by @PandaPSU

I'm not really THAT short...

There are some moments in life that a person never forgets. For a sports fan, those moments usually revolve around your team winning a championship or meeting one of the figures you look up to the most. Then there are those rare occasions where you have the opportunity to meet THE person you have idolized since you were young. Such was the case for me this past Friday night up at the beautiful Frameworth complex in Toronto, ON.

For those of you that do not know, Frameworth is a sports memorabilia and marketing company located in Toronto, ON. They are incredibly gracious with giveaways and frequently reach out to their followers. This past week they announced their "largest giveaway to date" with the winner receiving a ticket to the Lemieux Gala event. I found out on Wednesday that I was the random winner and needed to be in Toronto on Friday night. I made the necessary arrangements with work, and without hesitation, my wife and I drove through the beginnings of Winter Storm Electra to be at the hotel by the afternoon. With the event starting at 6:30pm, I had just enough time to try to collect myself and get ready for the event.

From the moment I walked into the door, I was absolutely blown away. For me, this had to be what heaven is like. Aside from the absolute enormity of the occasion itself, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the sports memorabilia throughout the large event space. Growing up, I was an avid collector of trading cards and various memorabilia. I found myself in awe of all of the collector's items. Before I knew it, I was reminiscing on all of the fond memories I had as a kid collecting these signature pieces and occasionally meeting someone famous to get the "holy" autograph. Enough about my background, though... on with the show!

As you read from the information above, the first hour of the evening consisted of hors d'oeuvres, an open bar, and a photo session with Mario Lemieux and the Stanley Cup. While most of my counterparts enjoyed food and drinks, I hurried to find my table number so I could organize my belongings and wait in line to meet my idol. To be honest, eating or drinking was the furthest thing from my mind. I waited in line for 10-15 minutes and finally had my photo. Mario, like many hockey players, is much taller in person than I thought, and it certainly shows in our photo (I was just happy to be slightly taller than the Stanley Cup).

After all of the attendees had their photo taken, the next part of the evening broke the tables up into different sections. My table made our way back to the cup for a photo with more childhood idols in Paul Coffey and Bryan Trottier. We needed to hurry through, because Mario would be making his way to our table immediately after the photo session. As he came around to greet us individually, pose for photos, and answer some short questions, I felt as though I needed to pinch myself to make sure this was all really happening. Because the photo session ran longer than expected, Mario did not have as much time at our tables. He did have time to pose for a photo with me, and tell the gentlemen seated next to me about a story when he was four or five. His mother would bring a small amount of snow into the house and put it onto the living room floor so he and his siblings could "skate around". It seems like even at such an early age, Mario was destined to be a hockey player.

As Mario finished meeting everyone, we made our way up to enjoy a delicious buffet-style dinner. Toward the conclusion of the meal, the emcee for the evening, comedian Jim Jerome, started the auction portion of the event. A portion of the ticket price had benefited the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and the auction was the other way Frameworth was raising money. I sat and watched as autographed gloves, autographed handmade banners, and even two seats to the February 27 Penguins game in the suite with Mario were auctioned off. The two seats netted the most money as two couples ended up spending thousands each for a great cause. They also had a "joker card" game, which I participated in. You pay per chance, picking any unclaimed card on the board and writing your name on it. At the end of the evening, the cards are turned over one by one until a joker is found. If the joker is never found, the ace of spades wins the prize. All of those chances also benefited the Mario Lemieux Foundation, but we will come back to that a bit later.

The final event of the evening consisted of Bryan Trottier and his band playing a half  hour set. They were very talented, and it was a joy to watch. The highlight for me was their cover of "Wagon Wheel." While I did not want the event to end, I grabbed my pickup ticket and collected my autographed plaque, jersey, and goodie bag. I then made my way over to Bryan Trottier to get his autograph and take a photo with him.  We spoke for five to ten minutes, and he was a very down-to-earth person. I made sure to wait around again to speak to Brian Ehrenworth, the owner of Frameworth, to express my gratitude once more. Obviously, without his generosity, none of this would have been possible for me.

If I were to craft a perfect evening for a Pittsburgh Penguins lifetime fan, I do not think I could have dreamed up a better four hours. I met some of the players I admired as a kid, and the player I looked up to the most. It also conjured up some great childhood memories (the photo Mario autographed in the frame above was the exact photo I had in my bedroom all throughout school). I received some amazing collectible pieces, that along with all of my personal photos, will make a great story for my own kids someday. It really was the perfect evening. Oh, I almost forgot... That "joker card" game I mentioned earlier... My card was unfortunately not the joker. It was the ace of spades, however, and the joker was never found. I ended up winning a custom built pool table from one of the sponsors of the event. It was just icing on one of the biggest cakes I have ever had. An evening with Mario Lemieux was one I will certainly never -- ever -- forget.

Thank you again to Brian and his staff at Frameworth Sport.
Frameworth can be found on Twitter @FrameworthSport and on Facebook under Frameworth Sport.

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