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At Forward with Claude Lemieux

September 30, 2011 Players 6 Comments

At forward with Claude Lemieux
By Stan Fischler
Oct 31, 2001, 16:44

©BBS

In winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as 1995 playoff MVP, Claude Lemieux, the New Jersey Devils winger, underwent the most dramatic metamorphosis since Hall of Famer Stan Mikita converted himself from troublemaker to Lady Byng Trophy winner for Chicago in the 1960s.

When New Jersey launched its playoff drive in round one against Boston, Lemieux was expected to do nothing but doggedly shadow Bruins ace Cam Neely. But rather than simply play defender, Claude left the slow-footed Neely in his wake and pursued offensive openings whenever they became apparent. He did so in the opening game, which he personally signed as his very own, and continued to excel throughout the playoffs.

When it was all over, no one was surprised that Lemieux was named the Conn Smythe winner. The man who until a few months earlier was known primarily for irritating other players certainly appreciated winning the award.

“The Stanley Cup is what we were playing for, and to win the Conn Smythe Trophy—with all the names on it—it’s just incredible my name will be on it. To be the most hated guy in hockey and have your name on this trophy is special.”

A major transformation

So how did a player everyone thought was a one-dimensional pest turn himself into an MVP?

“I was never born to be a star, but I know I’m a hard guy to play against—a player who will disturb not just by using my body or speed, but my scoring, too. I don’t try to hurt people. I just try to hit them as hard as I can.

When I first started, I was more of a role player. As I got older, I wanted to be more complete. What I’ve tried to do is take a bit of one player, like a Cam Neely, and a bit of another, like a Mark Messier.”

Something people have always noticed about Lemieux is his intensity.

“I am not the type of player who drives himself crazy thinking about the game. I’m a reaction-type person. When I go to the rink in the morning, I’m not the type of guy who could go out for a business lunch on the day of the game. (Devils broadcaster) Peter McNab says he can tell in the morning if I’m going to have a good game. He says, ‘If Claude is an ass in the morning, he will have a great game.’”

On-ice, that intensity used to get Lemieux into quite a few scraps. But he has learned to redirect his energy.

“I used to like to fight, but I found it interfered with my love of playing. I’d rather be on the ice. It drives me nuts sitting in the penalty box for five minutes when I could be out there scoring. I can hurt people a lot more with my shoulders and goals than I can with my fists.”

Lemieux urges all hockey players to focus on what’s important, and not get carried away with the moment.

“I play disciplined hockey. You’ve got to save your energy. Energy might he the difference at the end of the game.”

Which isn’t to say you should coast, or shy away from the physical stuff.

“You get physical, but that doesn’t mean sitting in the penalty box. There’s a big difference. You can be an agitator, but if you are going to be a big playoff performer you’ve got to be very disciplined. Watch how many shots (hits) I take in a series; I take them for the team.”

He prefers pressure

And as we all learned this year, Lemieux has an extra speed for post-season play. He says it’s the pressure that psyches him up.

“Every game in the regular season means a lot, but not as much as the playoffs. It’s a do-or-die situation every night, and I love to play under pressure. I grew up watching some of the clutch players like Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom. Everybody remembers what they did in the playoffs. Who’s remembering what they did in the regular season?”

As for shadowing—that activity which was supposed to be the 13-goal scorer’s primary playoff task—Lemieux says it’s not a solo effort, nor is it a limiting activity.

“Shadowing someone is not a one-on-one thing. The rest of the players are involved, and we (move) the puck out of our end. Once we get the puck, I have the option to be free to go.

“When I was young, my goal was to become as complete a player as possible. I wanted to kill penalties, be on the power play; be a guy who could play center at times, left at times, (and) right wing. I wanted to do a little of everything.”

Which explains why shadowing is merely a point of departure for Lemieux.

As a rookie with Montreal, Lemieux was quickly indoctrinated into a Stanley Cup-winning organization. But with the Devils, he says, it wasn’t so easy.

“In Montreal, we were part of a tradition…it was very special. Here with the Devils, we’re building a tradition. We’re the first ones to win the Stanley cup for the New Jersey Devils.

“When I came here five years ago, this was my goal. This was my dream. And to be one of the players that made it come true is just incredible.”

 

— Stan Fischler

This first appeared in the 09/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

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