More than once in his career, Claude Lemieux has proven to be a renaissance man.
But few could have imagined he’d re-invent himself again as a National Hockey League player at age 43 and having been away from the game for more than five years.
After playing for parts of 20 years in the NHL before retiring after the 2002-03 season with Dallas, Lemieux made his return in January after the San Jose Sharks signed him to a contract.
The Sharks had signed him to a minor-league contract in November with their American Hockey League team in Worcester, Mass., following a stint with two teams the Sharks own and operate in Asia.
Lemieux made the comeback feeling he still had something to contribute to the game, and to show a side of him to his two kids from his second marriage who really hadn’t seen him play before.
Though Lemieux is playing only a few minutes a game on the Sharks’ fourth line, he is enjoying the new lease on his hockey life.
“It reminds me of what it was like when I first started in the NHL,” he said.
“You kind of start in the same place, The difference is, I know I can play at this level and be effective, not just go out and stay on the ice 15 seconds and jump off in fear that something happens. I can really impact and be effective, so that makes me feel really good.
“Ideally, if I get 10, 12 minutes a game at this stage of my career it’s perfect. They’re getting to know me, I’m getting to know them, so you couldn’t ask for a better situation.
“They didn’t bring me here to put pressure on me to score or get points — goals will come, points will come. It’s about everything I can bring to the team, which is leadership and experience and physical presence. You need guys like that on a hockey team, like a recipe — a little bit of everything.”
“My whole mindset is to push myself condition-wise so when the playoffs come, I’ll be at my best and be ready to fill in whatever role they need me to fill.”
Three times in his career he has scored more goals in the post-season than in the regular season. He is also one of only four players to win Cups with three different teams.
In 1995, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.
He is also known for a controversial hit in the 1996 playoffs on Detroit’s Kris Draper, who required major surgery after crashing face first into the boards.
The Red Wings exacted revenge on Lemieux in Detroit in a regular-season game the next season.
When apprised of Lemieux’s comeback, Draper told the Detroit News he wished him luck. Draper also said he has put the hit in the past.
Lemieux will face Draper for the first time since his return when the Sharks play in Detroit later this month in a game featuring the top two teams in the Western Conference.
“I don’t think it would serve a good purpose to try to fuel the fire or stir things up,” Lemieux said. “I always said ‘I never hit Kris Draper.’ I hit a player that was there. I never went after him.”