Colorado Avalanche Claude Lemieux: Goon or Warrior?

Dec 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche alumni and current players are presented before the game against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche alumni and current players are presented before the game against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Colorado Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux is set to skate in tonight’s Alumni Game vs. the Detroit Red Wings. Was he a goon or a warrior for the team?

Colorado Avalanche alum Claude Lemieux is still a polarizing aspect of the team’s history. It’s not even so much if you love him or hate him. As an Avs fan, you probably feel a little of both. It’s just a question of which emotion is stronger in you.

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Claude Lemieux’s History

I’ve never been a fan of Claude Lemieux’s. Even as I’d appreciate what he brought to the Avalanche’s table, I didn’t like the man he was. I, like so many other, hated the Kris Draper hit. I also found his letting Howard Stern’s producer defecate in the Stanley Cup distasteful. (Come to find out it was all a hoax, but it was still a distasteful episode.)

On the flip side, Lemieux was the first player to score a hat trick as a Colorado Avalanche:

Related Story: First Avs Hat Trick

Likewise, when center Matt Duchene was beating an Avalanche great’s record with his epic November, that record-holder was Claude Lemieux.

What’s funny is that his history in the storied Red Wings rivalry is just as polarizing. He’s part of what brought about the rivalry and made it so great. No one went harder on the ice against the Wings. Yet there was that nasty hit, and that time Detroit’s own warrior/goon caused him to turtle during the Brawl of 1997:

Related Story: Avs-Red Wings Brawl of 1997

It’s noteworthy that Shanahan is a Hall of Famer because he had a similar reputation back in the day. However, it was the wild 1990s, the Clutch and Grab era, the last bastion of the Wild West of Hockey before the NHL finally cleaned up its act and decided to protect the players.

In other words, what would be pure goonery today was a normal part of the game back then.

No, it really isn’t easy to classify Claude Lemieux one way or another.

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Claude Lemieux Today

Colorado Avalanche legend — we can agree on that much at least — Claude Lemieux spoke with 104.3 The Fan. He reiterated something he’s long said:

"“If there’s one hit in my career that I wish I hadn’t finished, it’s that one [on Draper].”"

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He has had a chance to talk with Kris Draper since the incident (which caused Draper a concussion, broken jaw, nose and cheekbone, all of which required surgery and a wired jaw). Lemieux admitted it was an “awkward” conversation.

Draper suffered a concussion, broken jaw, broken nose and broken cheekbone, all of which all led to Draper having reconstructive surgery on his face having his jaw wired shut for several weeks

As Lemieux points out, he had an amazing career. It pains me slightly to note he has more Stanley Cup rings than Joe Sakic — the same number as Patrick Roy, four. He also won the Conn Smythe with the New Jersey Devils because he was such a playoff warrior.

Indeed, when current Colorado Avalanche prospect Joey Hishon made his NHL debut in the 2014 playoff, coach Roy pointed out that another player who’d done so was Claude Lemieux. In fact, several times in his career he had more playoff goals than regular season goals.

According to The Fan, coach Marc Crawford, who coached the Colorado Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup, credited Lemieux’s leadership with part of the reason they won the championship.

Next: Excitement for the Stadium Series Games

The Colorado Avalanche greats host the Detroit Red Wings for tonight’s Stadium Series Alumni Game. It is a much-anticipated event, largely because of the rivalry of yesteryear. Claude Lemieux is playing. So is Kris Draper. So is Brenden Shanahan and Dino Ciccarelli, who famously groused about having shook Lemieux’s hand at the conclusion the Avs-Wings playoff series.

But so are Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Sandis Ozolinsh and the great Patrick Roy. It’s going to be an excellent game.