Claude Lemieux: Proto-pest, Clutch Playoff Performer, Future Hall of Famer

Claude Lemieux (NHL Alumni Association)

Not enough is said about Claude Lemieux’s eyes. The player who’s now regarded as the NHL’s proto-pest must have been terrifying to line up against, not only because he might score with a backhand shot as soon as he’d check you from behind, but also because those sharp baby blues. One might be tempted to describe them as threatening or even sinister but they almost certainly stood as a reminder that the person who’d seem to be looking into your soul regards hockey as far more than a game.

Lemieux entered the league in the mid-80s with the Montreal Canadiens and would go on to have nine seasons with 20 or more goals and 100+ penalty minutes. He’d also personify clutch with 80 career playoff goals and a Conn Smythe Trophy to put on his mantel next to four Stanley Cup rings.

It’s an impressive resume, but one that doesn’t quite measure up to the class of NHL players that were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last weekend. Joe Sakic’s wrister, Bure’s speed, Oates’ playmaking, and Sundin’s backhander don’t leave any room for Lemieux’s sucker punch on Kozlov.

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“That I meant and this was calculated,” Lemieux said during an interview with Michael Landsberg. “I saw him and it was perfect timing. It hurts worse with the glove on too trust me.”

“Claude the Fraud” was not Brendan Shanahan, though, or even a Cam Neely. He broke “The Code” often by refusing to answer for his crimes. He didn’t go after players of his own size, instead irking the opposition by making targets out of the smaller, skilled players. During the same Landsberg interview Lemieux said instead of breaking Draper’s face open on the Detroit bench he would have rather targeted Steve Yzerman or Sergei Fedorov.

Here’s what happened the first time the Red Wings played Lemieux after he took that shot on Kozlov.

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Maybe no one ever mentions those piercing eyes because they always came up from behind.

“If Jacques Lemaire gave the Devils structure, Claude Lemieux helped give them snarl,” wrote Puck Daddy editor Greg Wyshynski. “True, he was a former champion; but he was also the embodiment of the scrappy, devilish (no better word) underdog attitude that the team needed to adopt in order to finally break through as a franchise while playing in the shadow of Manhattan.”

For that, he’ll get in.

Violence has always been an essential part of the game and there may not have been anyone as ruthless as the French-Canadian who wore a visor that seemed to cover his whole face, another point of frustration for other teams. Lemieux’s style couldn’t differ more from Sakic’s but when it comes to antagonizing players like Burnaby Joe and showing up in the playoffs  there might be no one better.

When you Google “Claude Lemieux” related searches are Joe Sakic, Darren McCarty and Stephane Richer. After watching the video of Lemieux’s infamous turtle, YouTube (appropriately) suggests an interview with Charles Manson.

During an interview Monday on the Marek Vs. Wyshynski podcast Lemieux remained diplomatic, albeit confident about his place in the shrine.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t care and it wouldn’t matter to me,” he said. “It’s probably the biggest honor anyone could receive but I think there’s two ways you can go about it. You can try to create a situation for yourself and justify why you should be in or try to wonder why you’re not. I really don’t spend too much time on the subject…When it does happen it will be that much sweeter.”

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