*This continues a series that will highlight certain impact players from each of the past Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup-winning teams. This weekly series will dive into both stars and lesser-name players, and should reprise some of the glory of past champions*
For anyone who knows hockey, this piece should spark some conversations. The next impact player we will highlight is none other than the polarizing figure Claude Lemieux. No matter where he’s played, opposing fans hate Lemieux, and the home fans love him (mostly). His style was intense, borderline dirty, and his star shone brightest on the grandest stages.
Claude Lemieux was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, 26th overall, in the 1983 NHL entry draft. The 6’1”, 220-pound winger played parts of seven seasons in Montreal, winning a Stanley Cup in 1986. In 1990, Claude was traded to the Devils where he would become a vital piece of their team, again lifting the Stanley Cup in 1995. Lemieux also won the Conn Smythe trophy that season as playoff MVP.
After the 1995 season, the Devils traded Lemieux to the Colorado Avalanche, and what a deal it was. In his first season in Colorado, Lemieux had one of his best career statistical seasons, totaling 71 points in 79 games to go along with 117 penalty minutes. His 39 goals that season were the second most in a season over his career.
Lemieux continued to play well in the playoffs for the Avalanche. In 19 games, Claude had 12 points to go along with 55 penalty minutes. Colorado won its first Stanley Cup, and Lemieux won his second in a row that season.
For fans unfamiliar with Claude Lemieux, he played with an edge, to put it nicely. If that’s your favorite style of hockey (it is mine) then go check out the brawl between the Avalanche and the Red Wings. The two teams had the hottest rivalry in hockey for a number of years, thanks in large part to the hit that Lemieux laid on Detroit’s Kris Draper in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in 1996, knocking Draper into an open bench door, causing Draper a multitude of injuries including a concussion, broken jaw, cheekbone, nose, and reconstructive surgery.
This really cemented Lemieux’s status as a villain in the hockey world, a reputation he embraced throughout his career. The hit also led to a bitter rivalry between Colorado and Detroit over the next few seasons where games looked like tough-man competitions instead of hockey games (again, much to my viewing pleasure).
Lemieux would go on to play parts of four more seasons in the burgundy and black, scoring over 20 goals twice during that time. He continued his pesky ways, racking up over 100 penalty minutes two more times as well.
Early in the 1999 season, Lemieux was traded back to the Devils for Brian Rolston. He won his fourth Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000.
Lemieux played regularly in the NHL until 2003-2004. He played a few games for Zug in the Swiss league that season and then retired.
He had a brief comeback in 2008-09 with the San Jose Sharks.
Lemieux’s impact with the Colorado Avalanche was undeniable, and although some of his edgy play overshadows his ability to impact the game on the score sheet, he was a player the Avalanche could not have done without, while winning their first Stanley Cup.