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Claude Lemieux suits up for China Sharks

by Bill Meltzer /
One of the most controversial yet undeniably accomplished players of his generation has decided to suit up again at age 43. Claude Lemieux, winner the of 1994-95 Conn Smythe Trophy and a four-time Stanley Cup champion with three clubs, is attempting to make a comeback four years after hanging up his skates.

Lemieux recently signed with the China Sharks of the Asia League of Ice Hockey (ALIH) and suited up for a Nov. 16 game in South Korea against Anyang Halla. Playing in front of 591 spectators at Anyang Ice Arena, Lemieux assisted on a Jason Beeman power-play goal early in the third period. Anyang Halla won the game, 4-2.

The Sharks next play Nov. 20 in Nishitokyo, Japan, against the league's first-place team, the Seibu Prince Rabbits. The Sharks also play the Rabbits on Saturday and Sunday. The schedule is arranged this way so that the Chinese team only has to make one trip to each of the league's four Japanese and two Korean locales during the season, and vice versa.

Lemieux, who lives in the Phoenix area and is the former president of the ECHL's Phoenix Roadrunners, left a front-office job with the Phoenix Coyotes to pursue the comeback attempt. He had been skating with the CHL's Arizona Sundogs and initially planned to sign with an AHL team while gauging interest from NHL clubs.

It remains to be seen how long Lemieux will remain with the Sharks. The China Sharks are owned by the NHL's San Jose Sharks. San Jose General Manager Doug Wilson, CFO Charlie Faas and CEO Greg Jamison put Lemieux in contact with China Sharks GM Chris Collins, and Lemieux agreed to travel across the Pacific for a trial run with the China Sharks.

In 1,197 regular season NHL games, the Buckingham, Quebec, native scored 379 goals, 406 assists and racked up 1,756 penalty minutes. Known for being a more focused and effective performer in the postseason than the regular season, Lemieux added 80 goals, 78 assists and 529 PIM in 233 playoff appearances and ranks among the League’s all-time best in several playoff categories. His 233 playoff appearances are tied for fourth all-time and his 80 career playoff goals rank ninth all-time. He also ranks third all-time in career playoff game-winning goals (19) and career playoff penalty minutes (529 PIMs).

Lemieux recently told the Denver Post, "I'm not doing this just to play one game in the NHL and that's it. I really think I can still help a team make the playoffs, and into the playoffs. It would sure be nice to get that fifth Stanley Cup. … It's a long year and I plan to keep working out hard. The biggest thing is that I know I can still play with guys who are still playing now for teams, and I know what it takes to win."

By signing with the China Sharks (which are owed by the NHL's San Jose Sharks), Lemieux is playing on a club that features former NHL goaltender Wade Flaherty and former NHL enforcer Steve McKenna. The club also has one one-time Carolina Hurricanes prospect Adam Taylor and former ECHL player Kevin Korol.  The Sharks have won two of 18 games to date and are in last place in the seven-team league.

Lemieux, who last played during the 2003-04 season in Switzerland for EV Zug, is not the first retired player of his caliber to have a go-round in the Asia League. A comparable NHL player known for being an on-ice pest and a playoff standout, Esa Tikkanen, took his five Stanley Cup rings and 630 points in 877 NHL games to South Korea at age 40.

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